Monday, October 04, 2010

What and who counts: Another defense of Title IX

I have not been surprised by the renewed calls to abolish/reform Title IX in the wake of University of California Berkeley's announcement that it is cutting five intercollegiate sports.

Yes, it's lousy that this happened. But California is not in good financial shape--as we all know. So it's not surprising that a department in one of its state schools--a department that has been running a $10-13 million annual deficit*--has been forced to tighten the belt.

And some are saying that the men are paying for this financial mismanagement more than women because more male athletes are affected by the cuts than women--because of Title IX.


And yes, I do think that it is fair that the gender that has more opportunities should bear more of the cuts.

But The publisher of Forbes, Richard Karlgaard, does not. This is an attack of excellence, he says, because we are putting equality above excellence. I will just state right away that in intercollegiate athletics, I will always choose equality over excellence. In part this is because I measure excellence and merit a little differently than Mr. Karlgaard. But I will get to that in just a moment.

Karlgaard is upset that two successful Cal teams, baseball and rugby, got cut. I kind of have an argument about the popularity of college baseball and the international influence on this so-called American game, but I that is kind of a post in itself.

So let's talk rugby, a sport I find interesting, a sport at which the Cal men excel. They have won the national championship 25 times since 1980. But it isn't an NCAA championship. Because the NCAA does not sponsor men's rugby. Most colleges have men's rugby as a club sport. I do not believe this diminishes the accomplishments of Cal's teams. But it does explain, in part, why it was cut. Cal was funding as a varsity team a sport that other colleges do not and one that the NCAA does not govern.

Also, the rugby team gets a lot of money from outside of the school. The coach himself has said the program is largely self-sufficient due to private donations. And rugby hasn't been cut the way the other sports has. It has been given some new category: varsity club status. I personally think Cal is going to get itself into trouble with this one, but that's just my preliminary hypothesis. But according to administrators, the team will still have access to school facilities and medical personnel. I have read conflicting reports about whether the team will have to pay something for this access.
In other words, it does not look like that much is changing for Cal rugby except for its status as a varsity sport. And since it competes against teams that also are not varsity sports, I don't understand what the big deal is. The coach has said that varsity status athletically validates the team. Again, very few other schools (if any?) have men's rugby as a varsity sport. Isn't the arms race in intercollegiate sports bad enough already? Do we have to create one out of nothing? The coach also has gone to battle with the administration to reinstate the team and has said the university could add women's rugby to balance things out. Good idea--except for that whole money thing that prompted the cuts in the first place.
Back to the meritocracy thing. Karlgaard thinks it's just "sick" that teams that have been successful are being cut (rugby, baseball) while less successful teams have been retained. He picks on women's track and field specifically noting that their times are not good enough to beat some high school track teams. This all breeds mediocrity, he says.
He values winning over participation. I do not. Not in intercollegiate athletics, anyway. I think it's pretty impressive for any young person to try to balance academically rigorous coursework and DI athletics and the general life issues that arise for 18-22 year olds. I think that's success. I think just getting out there and doing the training and competing is success. And I am not some kumbaya-singing, hand-holding, let's all share person either (not that there's anything wrong with that). I believe in healthy competition. I believe you learn from wins and losses and challenges and having to make choices.

But what really got my attention--and why I chose to address Mr. Karlgaard's piece in particular--was his opening line:
This [the cuts] is one of the saddest stories you'll read--and all the sadder because it has received so little attention across the country.

Let's get a little perspective and drop the hyperbole. In a week when a young man at Rutgers killed himself because his roommates outted him--on the internet--as gay, I think it's pretty hard to say that the Cal cuts are the saddest thing in the news and that the country isn't paying attention. Excuse the soapbox aside but...we have been ignoring sexuality-based bullying for far too long.

* I've seen a range of figures.

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