Speaking of Women's Rights: The Unkindest Cuts, or the Fairest?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Unkindest Cuts, or the Fairest?

No one likes budget cuts. But at least this time around, with regard to college athletic programs, schools seem to be figuring out what Title IX advocates have been pointing out all along – gender equity does not mean eliminating lower profile men’s teams in favor of women’s teams.

Rather, equity in athletics means providing equal opportunity to participate in athletics, regardless of gender. And sometimes that requires hard budget decisions.

The reality is that at most schools, high profile men’s teams are not money-makers; in fact, almost half of NCAA football and basketball programs spend much more than they bring in. Moreover, within men’s sports, resources are inequitably distributed, with football and men’s basketball receiving 74% of the total men’s athletic operating budget at Division I-A institutions - at the expense (literally) of both women's teams as well as lower profile men's teams.

Seen through the harsh light of budget cuts, it only makes sense to find ways to trim the highest cost programs. This year, in Bellingham, Western Washington University’s entire football program got the ax. The University of Washington is cutting both men’s and women’s swim teams to save $1.2 million.

Less drastically, school officials, including the PAC-10 conference, are starting to identify other cost-cutting measures. For example, schools can take actions such as limit spending on pre-game hotel accommodations, eliminate certain publications (such as media guides), or reduce the size of student-athlete and support staff travel squad sizes.

Though of course in an ideal world, schools would be adding athletic opportunities for all students, rather than cutting, spreading the cuts across athletic programs makes the best budget sense. And though I'd rather be cheering for a team of fantastic athletes (such as the UW softball team, 2009 NCAA champs), we can at least be glad the discussion is moving away from the irrational vitriol of the anti-Title IX crowd.