Friday, March 30, 2007

Today in Cleveland

It's been a busy few days here in Cleveland at the Women Rock conference. Hopefully I will write more later. Maybe on the plane tomorrow on the way home. This is just a briefing.
It's been two days of great panels and plenary sessions and, like at most conferences, there are just too many good things going on at once.
Today's highlight, though, was seeing and hearing Billie Jean King at a luncheon. (The talk was actually aired on public radio so you may be able to listen to it as a podcast.) Christine Brennan did the interview part of the program and she was basically throwing BJK some short lobs (to use a tennis metaphor) that she was able to just put away. This was fine.
Unfortunately Brennan lost a lot of my respect when she finished the talk by trying to address an audience member's concern about the growing number of students and student-athletes who have no idea what Title IX is. Brennan tried to spin it as a good thing because it is a sign of progress. In other words, girls and young women don't know what it is because they don't need it--they have opportunities. Most of us in the crowd groaned under our breath--my tablemate actually hissed a little.
First, just because there has been considerable growth in number of opportunities, there are still not equal opportunities, even in collegiate athletics but especially in high school. And two, you are more likely to be a girl in a specific demographic to even begin to be able to think that everything is just fine. White, middle and upper class girls have significantly greater access to sport. Girls of color. lower class girls and disabled girls have never had the kind of opportunities others have enjoyed. There is still plenty of work to be done and part of it involves teaching girls and boys what Title IX is and why it continues to be important.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Keeping the discussion going

This weekend there will be some good discussions about homophobia in sport. Down in Atlanta, in conjunction with the men's Final Four, Human Rights Campaign and It Takes a Team (part of the Women's Sports Foundation) are sponsoring a panel of current and former athletes who are gay or transgender, including the recently out John Amaechi. The majority of the panel are gay men. HRC's Mark Shields said "This is an important discussion to be had in terms of both male and female athletes at all levels of sports. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues with other events around the country, several leading female athletes were not able to participate in our panel this weekend in Atlanta."
Yes, the rest of us, including Pat Griffin, director of It Takes a Team, will be in Cleveland this weekend (starting today actually) for the "Girls and Women Rock: Celebrating 35 Years of Sport and Title IX" conference. Homophobia will certainly be discussed here, among other things of course.
So much dialogue in one weekend!

UPDATE: Here is a good article about homophobia in sport and the Atlanta panel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Keeping that uneasy feeling

Rene Portland is gone. Homophobia is not. John Smallwood's column on the Portland resignation in The Philadelphia Daily News is titled "Portland case revives unease over lesbians in sport." But the unease was always there. I worry now that with Portland gone there will be the collective sigh of relief: "phew, now that's over." The only thing that leaves with Portland is the blatant, public homophobia. Mechelle Voepel is right when she notes that the Portland saga is over. But negative recruiting still continues and often the tactics used are homophobic--sometimes subtle, and sometimes more obvious. Smallwood reports hearing negative references to lesbianism wherever he goes. And the presence of lesbianism is frequently trotted out as an excuse for why women's sports are less popular.
And let's not forget that racism still permeates all sport--not just women's sport. Harris's lawsuit contained allegations of racism (and sexism) but the majority of the media coverage of the case and of Portland's resignation focused on the homophobia. Like homophobia, much of the racism in sport these days is pretty subtle and rarely discussed. But it is there. Just listen to commentators who describe black athletes using terms and adjectives that compare them to animals. (Last night a commentator repeatedly referred to LSU's Sylvia Fowles's hands as paws or large paws or massive paws.)
So yes, let's celebrate Portland's resignation but let's not forget we still have a long way to go.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Is this the born-again Lieberman talking?

I think maybe I am glad she doesn't play on my team anymore. Though she was largely responsible for making Martina Navratilova into the amazing player she was (and still is of course) and you just cannot completely condemn a person who has that kind of impact. And she also has pics on her website of her and Martina and other gay icons like Rosie O'Donnell and Billie Jean King.
But last night, when she was commenting on the UNC game, she made several remarks that just made me stop and wonder why the born-again Lieberman even thinks women should be playing such a rough and tumble game as basketball.
First, her co-commentator, was discussing UNC's Ivory Latta and her relative quickness this season after summer knee surgery. He spoke with Latta prior to the game and reported that Latta's weight was only 3 pounds more than what it was last season. In other words, it's not extra poundage slowing her down this year.
Lieberman said, "You never ask a lady about her weight." Apparently Lieberman has missed the ongoing discussions about female basketballers' weight this season. There was the NYT piece that focused on Oklahoma's Courtney Paris in a discussion about issues of eating disorders and public information about weight in women's sports. There was the discussion that followed on air and in print and on the internet of course.
Athletes like Latta and Paris don't seem to mind talking about their weight probably because their bodies are integral to their success. Paris's run of 61 double-double games is due to her talent and how she uses her big body to effectively shut down opponents (even in Oklahoma's loss the other night she managed to pull out a double-double). Latta enjoys flexing her muscles for the crowd.
Lieberman's second made-me-pause moment of the night came when the pictures of the all the candidates for player of the year were shown on the screen. These were head shots of the athletes and so posed and out of uniform.
Lieberman crooned something to the effect of, isn't that nice, noting how much better they all look without all "those headbands." What she is saying is that they look feminine. I didn't get a good look at the pics but I know Sylvia Fowles of LSU and Katie Gearlds of Purdue wear headbands all the time when they play. And they did look different in the head shots. Gearlds especially. She looked like mid-western girl-next door. On the court she looks tough with her hair pulled back and her headband and her athletic socks. She looks like a serious basketball player. Apparently the headbands and such are just a little too butch for Lieberman in her post-gay days. This is somewhat surprising given that Lieberman herself has sported a headband in the past. One of the first images on her homepage is of her playing for the Mercury--in a headband.
And finally, (this one's for you, Diane) Lieberman, but also just about everyone else in sport, can't seem to grasp the incongruity when we all see women playing basketball but are told they are playing man-to-man defense. The only men I see on the court are a couple of guys in white and black stripes. Sports media go through all the trouble of distinguishing the women's game from the men's game--which doesn't even need an adjective--and yet use the same gendered terms to talk about it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Holy crap!

Rene Portland has resigned!
I am a little bit in shock but not so much that I cannot do the schadenfreude dance.
OK. I am back.
I think many of us knew that Portland would leave in the not too distant future, but I imagined it would be in a few years when her contract ran out; when she could announce her "retirement" and everyone would save face.
Her resignation may not be part of the settlement--though there seem to be some discussion about the level of voluntarily-ness--but Jennifer Harris's lawsuit had to have been a factor.
After all the publicity, including that about Penn State's passive stance towards Portland's public no-lesbian policy, it had to have been hard to keep her as the face of the Lions women's basketball team. One has to think that the administration did a little bit of nudging.
Like the details of the settlement, I am sure all the details of Portland's resignation will never be known. So just let your imagination run wild.

There goes the bracket

I am, admittedly, biased, but I think the women's NCAA basketball tournment has been far more exciting than the men's tourney thus far this year.
This op-ed, written before either tournament began, complains about the lack of coverage for women's sports--particularly women's basketball and places the blame largely on the shoulders of the NCAA.
I am not sure if blame rests entirely there. The NCAA really is not in the business of promotion; technically they are about governance. It's media outlets that decide what to publish and televise and thus promote.
Regardless of who is the biggest culprit in the lack of promotion of women's sports, this year's women's tournament has been outstanding. My bracket--and lots of other people's I am sure--is pretty much shot with upsets of teams like #2 seed Maryland, Stanford, and the early exit of Ohio State. But it's exciting to watch these teams from "lesser" conferences make a run at the title.
The sweet 16 starts this weekend and for all those whose brackets are better used as scrap paper now, I am sorry; and to everyone who entered a pool that only had the men's tournament--I hope you have seen the error of your ways.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Say what?

I do have some thoughts on the Pokey Chatman resignation and allegation(s), but they are not quite done yet. But I want to comment on some of the things said in this article about the situation at LSU.
First, Donnita Drain, head coach at Langston University, when asked if the situation was bad for women's basketball said it was and explained that it makes everyone (and I assume she means female head coaches) suspect. She notes that if you are not married then you are assumed to be gay.
Interesting, she was not asked if Chatman's resignation hurt the status of women head coaches--she was asked if it hurt the game. Her response seems to indicate how the situation has brought to the surface long-held assumptions about sports and lesbians that become somewhat buried--especially at this time of the year when we hear about parity and the increasing depth of women's basketball.
Perhaps if women's sports created a culture where individuals did not have to hide the fact that they are gay, this situation would have been less damaging (though how damaging it is remains to be seen and just how to measure such damage is also a question).
But what is really curious about the article is the following:
According to Brescia University coach Sean Page, the flagging number of male coaches in women's basketball relates to the concern of inappropriate relations between coaches and players.
"It's very hard for us (males) to get jobs in this industry," Page said. "There are less and less men coaching in women's basketball ... Georgia coach Andy Landers is the only male head coach left in the SEC."

I assume what Page is saying is that fears of sexual relationships between male coaches and female players are behind the growth of female head coaches.
His comments seem way off base to me. First, he competely overlooks the fact that women might actually be good coaches and that is why they are in the position of head coach.
Second, his comments do not make sense if one considers that one of the reasons given for men coaching women's sports is the fear of predatory lesbians. He also fails to consider the history of coaching: prior to the passage of Title IX women coached women's sports--about 90 percent of head coaches were women. Men, once upon a time, did not care to coach women's sports. Only when the prospect become more lucrative did they become involved.
In reality, since Title IX the number of female head coaches of intercollegiate basketball has remained pretty consistent (at around 60 percent) according to sports scholars Linda Carpenter and Vivian Acosta who have been compiling and reporting on the numbers of women in all facets of intercollegiate sports since the 1970s.
And, if we look at the head coaches of all women's intercollegiate sports we see that men comprise nearly 58 percent of these positions.
In all of intercollegiate athletics--men's and women's programs combined--women occupy only 17 percent of head coaching positions.
And lest Page think he has it tough being a man coaching women's basketball, he should remember how many women coach men's DI intercollegiate basketball: 0.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Leading the way?

I am perusing the USTA supplement that comes with my TENNIS magazine very month. It reports on the latest class of Hall of Fame inductees and offers this headline:
Sampras Leads Hall of Fame Inductees
This irks for a few reasons that stem from what "leads" really means in this context.
Remember, Pete Sampras and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario are both being inducted under the recent player category. Frequently the recent player inductee is the headliner--except maybe for the year when Bud Collins got inducted as a contributor (no offense to Hana Mandlikova.
I suppose Sampras may "lead" because he has more Grand Slam singles titles than Sanchez-Vicario. But they are actually tied for overall Grand Slam titles with 14 because Sanchez-Vicario has numerous doubles and mixed doubles titles.
Yes, in tennis we tend to privilege singles titles for some strange reason, as if it takes more fortitude to win a singles title. I think winning a doubles title is quite difficult because there are two people to a team. You have to be a good, smart tennis player and a good partner.
Of course "Sampras leads" may be a simple case of Americancentrism (with a healthy amount of sexism thrown in there too). This is the USTA magazine after all and the Spanish Sanchez-Vicario was known as a "clay courter" (despite her singles win at the US Open). And we wonder why ESPN only covers the Americans (while they still exist in the draw anyway) every year at Roland Garros.
Of course maybe it was just a matter of space. A few pages later, in an adverisement for the week of fesitivities at the Hall of Fame in Newport, RI the "headline" (it is an ad after all) reads "Sampras and Sanchez-Vicario Head Induction Class in 2007." Glad they got it right somewhere.

The spin of things

This article from CSTV is a rah-rah story about women's athletics at Ohio University. It provides fairly thorough coverage of the successes of various women's sports this year and attributes much of this success to the type of coaches Ohio U brings in, including two newcomers, and the close knit community the coaches of women's sports have established.
I am all for coverage of women's sports and even more so for positive articles about successful programs, but you cannot help but see the giant elephant loping around this story. Hard to talk about the success of the Ohio U program without talking about the recent cuts the athletic department made, eliminating four sports, including women's lacrosse.
While the cuts made barely a dent in the deficit the athletic department is running, it has to be said that, as unfortunate as cutting teams is, getting a budget under control and trying to comply with Title IX probably can only help women's programs.
Given the backlash, against Title IX and against university administrators, it probably would have been a good idea to talk about how, despite these setbacks, women's sports continue to thrive, and department morale is still up.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The other shoe drops...

...but in a good way.

Somehow I missed this news at the end of last week: the French Open--or Roland Garros as it is officially known--has decided to award equal prize money in all rounds this year.

Perhaps this did not make as much news because most people already thought Roland Garros awarded equal prize money. When Wimbledon made its announcement earlier this year about equal prize money most of the media outlets, blogs, etc. reported that it was the last Grand Slam to do so. But at RG equal prize money was only awarded to the winners of the event.

The French Federation said equal prize money across the board was the intent when it started with equal winners' checks last year. But I have to think that this two-step process perhaps was meant to be more of a multi-step plan making prize money equal gradually starting with the winners and then working down the draw. But the decision by the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club probably effected a change of plans across the Channel.

But that's just my cynical, conspiracy-theorist take on the situation. Regardless of how it came about, the four major tournaments in professional tennis now award equal prize money. And it only took 30+ years since Billie Jean King first suggested it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Good commercial

So often I seem to be complaining about offensive and/or exploitative commercials. But tonight I saw a good one.
During the finals of the men's Hockey East tournament, One Hockey ran the best ad for youth hockey. It starts in a classroom where a boy is methodically wetting a piece of paper, and slyly pulling a deconstructed pen out of his sleeve. He quickly turns and executes his spitball in the direction of a seemingly unsuspecting girl.
But she is able to block his shot with her notebook which she whips up in front of her face at the last second much to the shooter's amazement.
Why is the girl so quick? Because she's a hockey goalie, of course. And in the next scene we see her don her helmet and play with other kids (gender unknown).
Made me smile which was a good thing given that my alma mater, UNH, lost the championship.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It's all my fault

I have read a few articles recently that say how great women's sports are, if only more people would show up at games and contests so women's sports could get the recognition they deserve.
And whose fault is it that there are so many empty seats in the crowd? Mine apparently.
Two of the articles were by male columnists and both cite women as the reason why crowds are thin at women's events. (OK not my fault specifically, as I do indeed go to women's events--heck I plan whole vacations around women's sporting events. Of course this generalization is part of the problem with the male columnists.)
A Fairfield College columnist bemoaned the lack of attention the women's sports at her school receive from the community despite their overall success in recent years. She though starts to get at the reality of the situation--not the lack of female fans--the pervasive, antiquated stereotypes of women's sports:
We've all heard the common argument, that women's sports are slow, uncompetitive and lacking in the strength that men's programs offer. In some aspects this is true, but I know plenty of people who would not want to stand in front of a spike from the volleyball team.
I think she damages her own argument with the "some aspects this is true" line. I have never seen a noncompetitive women's event in my life; there may be differences in skill that result in slanted scores--this happens in men's sports too--but every athlete out there is competitive.
But the problem is that the belief is still there. Last summer I listened to a male fan complain about how long the women's tennis match we were watching at the Pilot Pen was taking because he wanted to see the men play. This was a match with rising star Anna Chakvetadze which was followed by a men's match with a French journeyman and a relative eastern European unknown (nationality matters in the United States as evidenced by the near exclusive television coverage of American players in Grand Slam events).
Why not women's hockey? Because it isn't as physical some say.
Why not women's basketball? Because they only shoot from the outside. (One of my male students a few years ago offered that rationale.)
Why not women's soccer? They just are not as skilled as the men. (That was from one of my female students who is a soccer player and said women's professional soccer was not as interesting to her because she looked at them and knew she could do everything they did. I stopped myself from pointing out that if that were really true she probably wouldn't be playing at a relatively unknown DIII school.)
The problem remains that we still judge women's sports in relation to men's. And some of those doing the judging--like my male student--admit to rarely even watching women's sports.
Still, according to columnist Mark Purdy:
Women's sports events do not draw larger crowds mostly because those events are not supported strongly enough by ... other women.
And from a student columnist, Frank Ram, at Citrus College, some pretty scathing comments for all us supporters of equal rights:
If women want equal rights in athletics, they should start by supporting the teams they fought hard to get.
Women who preach for equal right in athletics need to buy tickets and show up so that the empty seats don't outnumber the filled ones.
Where to start? First, we cannot be everywhere. When the WUSA was in existence I went to see the Boston Breakers. But I couldn't go to California where some teams were less supported than the Boston franchise. And secondly I would almost guarantee that all those who preached in the 70s and those of us who do so today DO go to events. For example, I am headed to the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament on Sunday.
But there won't just be women there. There will be men and children and probably even some people who don't conform to the gender binary at all.
Ram notes that "Since most people who watch male athletics are men, it would makes sense that women should support their teams and further their cause towards equality." But there are a lot of women who watch men's sports. A lot. And there are men who watch women's sports. And there men and women who watch both men's and women's sports. And there are some people who don't watch sports at all. Yes, even men.
The problem is that too many people--like Frank Ram--believe in this separatist model and/or that women's sports just aren't as good.
And they fail to see the larger picture which is that women's sports are not as supported because they are not as valued--by both men and women. Because being a female athlete casts doubt on your "femininity" and thus your sexuality. And the same is true of fandom. Avid female fans are often lesbians and those who are not often have to justify their fandom with things like pink baseball caps, or pink football jerseys.
In other words, there is still a lot of stigma around women's sports that will not be solved with more women showing up to games.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Parity looks a little strange this year... DI women's ice hockey. Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson, whose team has won three national championships since 2000, noted recently that the growth of the women's intercollegiate game is a sign of increased parity. Unfortunately for her #9-ranked team, this means no trip to the national tournament this year.
Despite a rough end to their season, the Gophers probably deserved to make it into the 8-team tournament. (Part of the problem with women's ice hockey is its very small tournament; it only recently expanded to 8 teams.) It's true that the Gophers were ranked out of the top 8 at the end of the season but they play a much tougher conference than Boston College, who wound up 7 in the polls at season's end but lost in the first round of the Hockey East tournament (which, in my mind, should have dropped them to 8).
BC went on last weekend, in the first round of the tournament to upset 3# Dartmouth, who probably should have played Harvard who they beat soundly in the ECAC tournament.
Tournament organizers did some very interesting pairings to avoid intra-conference first round match-ups. Wisconsin should have played Minnesota-Duluth or BC but instead got Harvard who they narrowly beat after 4 overtimes.
This, in hindsight probably did not make Mercyhurst, #2, too happy as they were upset by Minnesota-Duluth who might have played Wisconsin if not for the no conference match-ups plan.
Anyway, my prediction is that Wisconsin will take it all again this year. I see them beating St. Lawrence and, on the other side, UM-D beating BC soundly.
Not sure who, if anyone (I won't even go there today), is covering the games for television, but webcasts can be accessed here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Million dollar ice hockey coach

Intercollegiate sports work a little differently in Canada from what I understand. Though I don't know many details, Canadian hockey players I have talked to say they come to the U.S. to play college hockey because they can get athletic scholarships here. Basically intercollegiate athletics here get more funding.
But it also seems like athletics, in educational institutions anyway, are a little more sane up north. This also means that coaches are not making million dollar salaries. Coaching is actually more of a part-time gig supplemented by other work in the university.
This was the case of the McGill women's hockey coach, Peter Smith, who coaches the successful team part time and is the facilities manager for recreational sports the rest of the time. Until recently that is when a couple, the Kerrs, donated a $1 million to endow the head coach position. Both were associated with the team in the past: the husband as a former coach and the wife as a former player.
It is the largest donation to a Canadian university sports program men's or women's--ever.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Glad I don't live in Great Britain

Because I might not be playing tennis right now. (Well in an hour actually.)
A new study shows that only 19 percent of British women participate regularly in recreational physical activities. The study, conducted by the British Women's Sports Foundation, also shows that race is factor. Only 13 percent of Asian women say they participate in recreational sports.
The link above does not provide many details however. But it seems that participation in recreational sports is not widespread in Great Britain. Because, according to the study, only 24 percent of men say they participate in sports three or more times a week.
But when compared to the United States and Australia where about 50 percent of women take part in recreational sports, participation numbers for women are low. The plan is to work with 15 women in GB and develop them into leaders in women's sports over the next three years. It appears to be a trickle-down plan rather than something more grassroots.
Though the British may not be participating in sports in large numbers, they certainly have being a fan down. Check out any football match or Wimbledon--especially when a Brit is playing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

X Games adds women's surfing

I have never been a huge follower of extreme sports and the X Games, but I remember that when they began, however many years ago now, there seemed to be women competing in them in events like skateboarding and rollerblading. But when I caught some of the action a few years ago there seemed to be no women in the Games. The women's events had disappeared. I guess not too surprising given that the games are owned by ESPN--not exactly an exemplar of gender parity.

I don't think this marks a resurgence necessarily, but it is promising that women's surfing will be incorporated into the Games this summer to be held in Mexico.

I really like women's surfing actually. (I am not ashamed to say I own Blue Crush and thought Kate Bosworth looked far better as in-shape surfer than she does now as anorexic waif.) I also liked the few reality shows that came out a few years back on surfers. One was on MTV and was about female surfers trying to win a spot in a professional competition and the other was on the WB (now CW) about a group of male and female professional surfers on the pro circuit.

But it seems the public lost interest in surf culture, which is too bad because I think surfing occupies an interesting space in sports culture. It is largely considered an alternative sport and it seems to attract not just rich white dudes but women, people of color, and people of varying class statuses. And though there is now a competitive circuit, there are many who never compete and do it for the experience. I have heard it compared to yoga in terms of its ability to produce a zen-like experience.

But it isn't necessarily a solely individual experience either. In the X Games it will be a team sport pitting a US team against a World team.

Maybe its inclusion in the Games will reinvigorate a more general interest in the sport.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Take that, Barbie!

This story about the state of women's sports from last week begins with a very cute story from Brazilian soccer star Sissi do Amor Lima who refused to take no from her parents who wanted her to play with dolls rather than pursue soccer. Sissi just ripped the heads off her dolls to use them as balls.
The rest of the story about women's sports is worth reading, too.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lots of kicking, not much thinking

I have been meaning to write about Katie Hnida's memoir Still Kicking for while now. I read it over the holidays while I was sick and on the couch for about 48 hours. So I think that gives you an idea of the type of book it is. It's not especially challenging--which is fine.

I was expecting a little more though than just the details of Hnida's career as a kicker in DI football. It was good in that some of the details were filled in: how she got started kicking (yes, she was a soccer player first who quit after a knee injury), her high school career, and her career post Colorado (where she was raped by a fellow teammate and generally made miserable by the coach and select other players).

The problem I had with the book was that it all operated at an individual level. Again, I was not expecting an in-depth analysis of the patriarchy. I realized it would be difficult for Hnida to critique the ideologies that football reifies as someone who "succeeded" in the sport.

But I was very disappointed that she failed to see anything larger than what was in front of her. At times this came off as the power of hegemony, but other times it just made Hnida appear hopelessly naive.

For example, in high school, where she quickly earned a spot on the varsity team with little conflict from her own community, she was named homecoming queen. There were many reporters at the homecoming game where Hnida had to stay on the field for pictures and the crowning during halftime. She just couldn't understand what all the fuss was about as she tried to make her way to her team in the locker room.

In the end Hnida presented it as a story of good people (male coaches that are supportive, team mates that defend a woman's presence--well Hnida's presence anyway--in football, a family of supporters, a sympathetic reporter) and bad people (coaches that discourage women, a friend turned rapist, teammates that threaten, a stalker, athletic directors that turn a blind eye). But it's a story of larger issues: systems that allow discrimination against women that leads to their exclusion from "male" sports, rape, threats of sexual and physical assault, and media attention for the pretty player so long as she stays quiet and does not complain.

If it's a story meant to inform then it falls short. Even for those unaware of the intensity with which football will try to maintain its position as a male preserve, this story hardly serves as an entry point into a more thorough critique of sport. This is a good good versus evil story in which an individual overcame adversity and made history. It's the American Dream on the football field.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Just don't take the money

Finally a rational suggestion about the James Madison University athletic cuts. The cutting of ten teams (JMU previously carried the most varsity teams at the DI level), for anyone not familiar with the story, were announced last September and very much blamed on Title IX rather than the poor budgeting skills of university administrators.
And the decision has been news ever since because of the furor over the cuts, including the hatred of the Virginia state legislature which has threatened to cut some of the university's funding unless the powers that be reconsider.
A Virginia columnist, who apparently goes by the name Poppin, encouraged the legislature--which apparently hates Title IX so much--to just forgo federal funding of JMU, make up the difference themselves, and run as many teams with whatever gender ratio they want.
Oh wait, you don't the money to do that, Virginia? Right, tight budgets are what started this mess in the first place.
Poppin was being facetious of course. Almost no institution in this country can afford to forgo federal funds. And even if JMU was, it would be unlikely that they would be able to have an athletic program that was grossly inequitable. The school itself would lose a lot of credibility. The NCAA, which does monitor gender equity, would not be too pleased. And there is probably some state law that prevents gender discrimination in Virginia that a female athlete could use to bring legal action against the university.
In other words, Title IX is the scapegoat. There are other legal and bureaucratic mechanisms in place that help female athletes, though they arguably are not as effective as Title IX.
Regardless, the Virginia legislature's threats are pretty empty because, in the end, what they are asking the university to do is ignore a federal law, the effects of which would be a costly lawsuit funded in part by....the state of Virginia.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bring on the women wrestlers

Not in Jello, not in mud, not wearing string bikinis--but on a regulation mat wearing real wrestling singlets in intercollegiate competition. It appears that women's wrestling may be an emerging sport in intercollegiate athletics. And Oklahoma City just may be the epicenter of this progressive move.
Oklahoma City University is starting a women's wrestling program to go along with its successful men's program. It will also be coached by the current men's coach. The program, when it is implemented next fall, will be one of only 6 programs in the country. But the move by OCU is generating significant buzz. The coach has already fielded calls from all the top female high school wrestlers in the country.
And OCU will also have the benefit in recruiting as it borders Texas, which has half of the country's 5,000 high school female wrestlers. [I find this somewhat ironic given that, last I knew, Texas had a ridiculous law that said, after age 14, girls could not wrestle against boys and because of the dearth of female wrestlers, this left many young women without the opportunity to pursue their sport. This is the story of Tara Neal (pictured above) who was the focus of the excellent documentary Girl Wrestler.]
The potential emergence of women's wrestling is probably quite dismaying to male wrestlers who already feel maligned by women athletes and Title IX who they see as taking away their opportunities to compete at the collegiate level. [This is a misconception of course. Wrestling is frequently on the chopping block when athletic departments find there is not enough money to support all the programs they have in an equitable manner but research has shown the most cuts to wrestling occurred in the 1980s when Title IX was not being enforced.]
I am quite interested in seeing how and if this trend emerges and how the introduction of women's wrestling to intercollegiate athletics will alter the overall landscape of women's athletics.