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Chapter 5: Title IX and Olympic sports

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Most of this report focuses on revenue, expenses, facilities, and other trends primarily associated with football and men’s basketball, for a simple reason: Those sports are where the money is. However, big-time athletics programs maintain a variety of other teams for a variety of reasons. Among them are institutional history, local differences, and NCAA membership requirements. But an undeniable reason for a large number of athletics programs is the law forbidding colleges from discriminating on the basis of gender: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Between 1981 and 2007, the number of Division I women’s teams sponsored jumped from 2,011 in 1981-82 to 3,339 in 2006-07, according to NCAA records; the number of women student-athletes in big-time programs more than doubled. Much of this growth was triggered by lawsuits in the mid-1990s forcing colleges and universities to adhere to Title IX guidelines.

Despite these gains, far more men than women are still participating in sports at the Division I level. The NCAA’s study found that even though 53 percent of full-time students at Division I institutions in 2007-8 were female, only 45 percent of scholarship athletes were (DeHass, 2004).

Virtually no women’s teams attract enough fans to make money, and few have the kind of marketing deals from corporate sponsors that enable men’s teams to generate net operating revenue. In fact, the NCAA reported that in 2006, universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision ran a median annual deficit of just under $5 million on women’s sports. They were hardly alone: 49 percent of universities also ran a deficit on men’s sports, with a median loss of $4.4 million.

Proponents for men’s sports have long said that sports opportunities for men have been reduced as slots for women have grown because of Title IX, but many studies have found otherwise.

In recent years, athletics directors, faced with rising costs and the decision to spend more on revenue-producing sports, have faced a dilemma: Do they cut costs (or eliminate increases) evenly across all sports, even if it makes some teams uncompetitive? Or do they choose to eliminate a sport altogether to concentrate cost-cutting there? Teams in the so-called Olympic sports—such as track and field or swimming—have fallen prey to the budgetary knife when athletic departments need to cut back. Such teams are easy targets, but because most athletics departments are not in compliance with Title IX’s requirements for women’s participation, colleges risk expensive legal battles if they cut women’s sports. That leaves cuts to, or finding efficiencies for, men’s sports as the only options.

Proponents for men’s sports have long said that sports opportunities for men have been reduced as slots for women have grown because of Title IX, but many studies have found otherwise. A Women’s Sports Foundation study found that between 1992-93 and 2000-01, women’s participation increased annually by 4.5% and men’s participation increased annually by 0.3% (Cheslock, 2008). The corresponding figures are 2.5% and 0.2% for the periods 1981-82 to 1992-93 and 2000-01 to 2004-05. However, out of all the NCAA’s divisions, only in Football Bowl Subdivision programs have there been a decline in men’s opportunities; “slight” in the conferences with automatic bids to the BCS—but larger decline in the other FBS conferences, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation study.