More thoughts on Title IX, football and proportionality

Quite a bit has transpired since I wrote here last week about the growing clamor over Title IX and the proportionality debate that isn’t new, but has taken on a fresh dimension:

• First of all, in a column that slams the graft and corruption of college football, George Vecsey of The New York Times on Saturday piled on the “football is the enemy of Title IX” meme, and this was rather unfortunate:

“Let’s ask the question: What causes this insatiable need for female (or ersatz female) names and numbers? It stems from the gigantic elephant leaving proof of its presence smack in the middle of most college campuses: King Football.”

• Missing from Vecsey’s analysis — and he’s a columnist I’ve long admired — is any mention of the fact that “King Football,” men’s basketball and their ultra-rich television contracts pay the freight for the most successful women’s athletics programs. For those who doubt this, check out the nifty little deal revealed Tuesday between the soon-to-be Pac 12 Conference, ESPN and Fox.

It’s for 12 years and is worth an estimated $3 billion, the richest ever for a college sports conference. Like previous media packages involving the ACC, SEC and Big 12, women’s and men’s non-revenue sports will benefit from the increased exposure. As I wrote recently, the wildly successful Big Ten Network is combining handsome profits with a commitment to devote half its programming to women’s sports. Football is the benefactor, not the enemy.

SEC football behemoth LSU recently hired away Nikki Caldwell from UCLA to coach its women’s basketball team, and will be paying her a minimum of $700,000 a year. Not bad for someone with only three years of head coaching experience in a sport that loses millions. But unlike activists and journalists, Caldwell lives in the real (perhaps surreal) world of college athletics and like many in her position understands the need to make the alumni and booster club rounds with her football and men’s basketball counterparts.

• Former Women’s Sports Foundation CEO Donna Lopiano continues her decades-long lament to stop “this damn arms race in football and men’s basketball.” It is true that the money some coaches make and the expenses these sports roll up are increasingly breathtaking. But so are the sums being spent on women’s basketball, and coaching salaries in particular, although she does not acknowledge this, nor how they are being financed.

What’s driving this argument is the activists’ longstanding animus for football, which might be as insatiable as the appetite of fans for more televised college football. It is the arms race in non-revenue sports — for both men and women — that ought to be a greater concern.

• The Times on Monday detailed the University of Delaware’s recent decision to cut its men’s track and cross-country team as a pre-emptive measure against any possible Title IX violations in the future. Now that’s a relatively new twist to an old, sad story. But with women the majority of the undergraduate students at Delaware and many other schools, the male athletes’ claims of discrimination as the “underrepresented” gender bear watching.

• However, the real pain that too many young men have been feeling in the name of “leveling the playing field” falls on deaf ears within the Title IX establishment. Judging from an account inside the echo chamber of this week’s NCAA gender equity confab, the status quo was firmly upheld. Furthermore, invitees were treated to “a brilliant keynote address” on policies dealing with sexual abuse by coaches and calls to eliminate sexist and homophobic language in sports.

Good luck with that last one.

• Welch Suggs, a former reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education whom I met on the Title IX “beat” and who has written a very good book on this subject, is challenging me to come up with a “serious, dispassionate review of Title IX regulations.” Well, although I do have certain point of view I think I’ve done some of that here, and I will expand on this soon.

As Suggs notes, I’m not the only woman who feels the way I do, as noted journalist Hanna Rosin commented on this topic last week at Slate. Her perspective comes from delving into gender-related issues that are far larger than sports: How women, with their superior numbers in higher education, could dominate the post-industrial economy, and what that might mean for American society. She also wrote a compelling piece last year about Baylor All-American Brittney Griner and “the feminine dilemma of women’s basketball.”

• I appreciate the kind words from a number of people who read last week’s post, including sports business analyst Kristi Dosh, who’s begun a new blog, the Business of College Sports that I highly recommend. She’s been laying out a very methodical — dispassionate? — examination of how revenue sports are becoming increasingly necessary. I look forward to following what she uncovers. Fascinating stuff.

• A few other recent suggestions — none of them new — have sprung forth from various media quarters on solving the riddle of proportionality: Remove football from the head count. Add cheerleading to the head count.

I used to think these were good ideas, too, but what they don’t do is take proportionality out of the equation altogether. They merely perpetuate the numbers game — the head count — and that’s the main problem.

• The other two tests for Title IX sports compliance are just as unworkable. Some college athletic administrators are saying the same thing to the Title IX establishment, which, not surprisingly, seems surprised to hear this.

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