Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Varsity versus club sports

There were so many things happening last week that I didn't get a chance to write about the brief article in the NYT about college club sports. I was reminded by the fact that I had to do so by the letters the NYT received about the piece.
First, the actual article. As I said, it was brief but quite interesting. Entitled "Dropped from Varsity Lineup but No Longer Grumbling," it featured athletes and teams that once had varsity status but were now club sports. Come to find out that it actually is not a fate worse than death. In fact, some athletes like it better. Some chose a school with a club program over an opportunity to play on a varsity team.
So refreshing given that so many complain bitterly about how sports are cut--due to Title IX, the argument goes--and this deprives so many students--mostly men--of the great experience of playing sports. First, playing sports is not inherently great. I am sure there are plenty of former athletes who could tell you about some pretty not great experiences. Second, playing varsity sports is not always the greatest experience. Student-athletes make a lot of sacrifices these days--a lot. Is it worth it for some? Absolutely. But this is not a universal feeling.
In other words experiences in sport are variable. Furthermore, I would argue that the experiences in high-profile intercollegiate athletics are not all that great for the majority of the student-athletes.
So it is not surprising that an "alternative" structure (i.e., the club sport model) is being embraced by some--including wrestlers.
Wrestlers, wrestling coaches, and fans of wrestling have been some of the most vocal opponents of Title IX because they believed that the law destroyed their sport. Except that it hasn't.
Jim Guinta, executive director of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, who himself was once a strong opponent of Title IX, said this in the article:
“Everyone was talking about Title IX effects, and I thought those policies might eventually level out, so our goal was to posture ourselves as a bunch of schools that were ready to be brought back. But some of us have come to realize that institutions have been using Title IX as a cop-out. The real reason they are cutting sports is to save money. So we still encourage teams to be reinstated in the N.C.A.A. if they can, but that’s rare. We’ve moved on and have a strong association of thriving wrestling programs.”
Say that again? A strong association of thriving wrestling programs?
So not only do club teams merely survive, or get by, they can actually do well.
The Title IX Blog also wrote about the article and includes, in their post, a critique of the piece.

Moving on...the brief article resulted in some letters to the sports editor, one on the issue of funding--an important aspect that was overlooked--and the other, not surprisingly from the president of the College Sports Council, who continues to engage in an anti-Title IX rhetoric based on a skewing of the facts. Eric Pearson is correct--there are more varsity teams for women than there are for men. But Title IX does not measure number of teams because teams come in a variety of sizes. Title IX measures opportunities--as in total number of roster spots among all sports. That is why his use of the term "counterparts" when speaking about men's and women's soccer has very little meaning. There is no requirement for fairness among players of a particular sport. Again, opportunity is measured in the aggregate. There are not as many men's soccer teams as there are women's soccer teams because there are other men's sports that have large rosters--i.e. they are taking up the spots. Sure, if I was a male soccer player I might be pissed. But if I was smart, I would be pissed at the 20+ guys on the football team who will never see a minute of actual play--or, more appropriately, at the administrators that think the presence of these non-playing players is okay when there are likely 20 men who would like a chance to play soccer.
Of course, if the NYT article is right, a lot of those soccer players could be having a great time on their club sport team.


Anonymous said...

Sooo.. if playing club sports is all you portray it, then why did so many girls fight to be varsity sports? Why was Title IX applied to sports the girls already had the best solution - club teams? and if club teams are so great, why don't we hear about more girls going back to club teams and renounce Title IX quotas?

Instead, as you point out there are a great deal more men's club teams and you blame that on the 20 guys playing football. What on Earth does that have to do with the number of guys wanting to play soccer? It's Title IX quotas that link the two. It's just as appropriate to blame the 20 girls who decided to be dancers as it is to blame the football players. Some how you missed that though.

Oh.. and a final thought.. why does the girls' soccer team get to complain if the boys' parents build them a concession stand, but then the boys don't get to complain when they don't get the same number of soccer scholarships that the girls do or when the whole soccer team gets cut? Seems to me, if the girls teams are going to compare themselves to the boys teams, they should in good and in bad.

But that would mean they were treated equally, and heaven forbid we have that.

I'm sure those girls would have a wonderful time on their club team when they get cut just like the boys.

kris said...

You speak as if no women's teams have ever been cut. Head to NH and ask the women's crew team how they like being a club sport. Or to JMU where the archery team is a (quite successful if we're talking win-loss) club sport. There's been very little research on club sports and their role and structure.
And remember that it is very difficult to counter the dominant view that varsity sports are the be-all, end-all of sport participation. Students who have grown up playing competitive sports certainly are taught to seek out varsity sports at the college level. Club sports are seen as second-class, at best. If you're a young woman playing competitive sports you've probably been told, by the Liberal American society in which we live, that you are equal and you deserve an equal slice of the pie--even the varsity sports pie. And so they seek it out. They want the same recognition, the same treatment as their male peers.
And they probably think they have something to prove to all those people out there who believe girls are not good at and not interested in sports.