The other night during game one of the championship series of the WCWS (Arizona won the third game, by the way, to give them back to back titles) commentator Beth Mowins noted the growing depth of women's intercollegiate softball. No California team made it to Oklahoma City this year, for example. Mowins also noted that the SEC, of which Tennessee is a member school, has grown increasingly stronger in the past five years or so.
SEC softball has been the beneficiary of SEC football, Mowins said almost in passing during this inter-inning chat.
Wait, what? Did she just basically say that football pays for women's softball in the SEC. This is the kind of argument that gets thrown back at women's sport advocates when we kindly point out that football teams are too large and usurp far too much of the athletic budget. "But football pays for women's sports," we hear over and over again. And over and over again we must say "No, the majority of schools with football programs do not make a profit off of football. Most don't even break even."
Of course some SEC schools are football powerhouses; football culture is deeply entrenched and thus draws many fans who would like to believe that football is a benevolent benefactor. But still I would think a sports commentator--of women's sports no less--would know better. It is next to impossible to trace the monies associated with football in the larger athletic department budget but schools do report expenses and profits, and other gender equity data. (If you have a subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education you can check out the data there or here at the department of education site.) Also, coincidentally enough, the Women's Sports Foundation came out this week with a report that graded schools based on their performance in the area of gender equity.
So I thought I would take a look to see how SEC schools did.
University of Alabama: D+, with a 16.7 proportionality* gap (% of women as undergrads minus percentage of female athletes)
University of Tennessee: B+, 4.1 gap
University of Arkansas: B-, 9.2 gap
University of Florida: B-, 8.7 gap
University of Georgia: C+, 10 gap
University of Kentucky: C, 12.4 gap
University of Mississippi: D, 19.7 gap
University of South Carolina-Columbia: C, 12.6 gap
Vanderbilt University: B+, 4.6 gap
Auburn University: B, 6.1 gap
Louisiana State University: C, 13.3 gap
Mississippi State: B, 7 gap
I think it is important to note the the school tied for the highest grade in the conference was the most successful school in this year's WCWS and the winner of the women's NCAA basketball tournament. I don't think it is a coincidence that a school committed to providing women equitable opportunities has had that kind of success.
* proportionality is not the only measure of Title IX compliance in the area of opportunities but the WSF was not measuring Title IX compliance but how many opportunities women had to play.