I'm a girl. A female, a woman, a chick. I've also been an athlete for a quarter century. I've competed seriously in swimming, cycling and triathlons; less than seriously in skiing, sport climbing and flat-track motorcycle racing. Lately, George Will in Newsweek and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal have been barking about women just not being interested in sports. We don't have the aptitude for them anyway, they say—it's genetic. According to Jessica Gavora, author of a new book called Tilting the Playing Field, as a child I would have been happier "playing with dolls and acting out parental and family scenarios" than joining my male teammates in the pool at dawn. Who knew?
All this talk about what women should and shouldn't want to do comes with the 30th anniversary of Title IX, the law that mandates equal opportunity for both sexes wherever there is federal funding. As laws go, it has been a success. In 1972, 1 in 27 high school girls participated in sports. That number has now risen more than tenfold, to 1 in 2.5. There are 3,714 more distaff programs at college campuses across America than there were 20 years ago, and despite some cutbacks, there are 989 more men's programs as well. So why is Title IX being vilified?
Critics call it a quota bill enforced by a handful of antimale extremists whose goal is the elimination of many beloved men's sports programs nationwide. These naysayers also blame Title IX for creating new and—because women are so biologically ill-suited to athletics—unwanted women's teams.
While it is depressingly true that more than 170 men's wrestling programs have disappeared in the past 20 years (along with other lower-profile men's programs), Tide IX didn't cause their demise. Title IX does not tell universities how to spend their sports budgets, it just says that both sexes must get equal access to the resources. Equal does not mean identical, and no one is out to be unreasonable. A female diver does not expect to be treated like the starting quarterback. So when a school chooses to charter a jet to take the football team to a game rather than fund the men's wrestling squad, please don't blame the women's diving team.
In 1999 women received 33% of NCAA budgets nationwide, 41% of the sports scholarships and 30% of the recruiting dollars. Meanwhile, about 70% of men's athletic budgets went to football and basketball. As for the argument that those programs are the breadwinners of athletic departments, in Division I only 41% of football teams and 51% of basketball teams managed to break even.
This can lead to some embarrassing math. In 1995 UCLA cut its men's swimming and gymnastics teams because the school needed to save money. At the time, the combined budget for those programs—both of which had produced Olympic champions—was $266,490. The budget for football? $6,555,774.
That is why it's misguided to pit, say, the men's cross-country team against the women's rowing team, or women against men, in general. Clearly, women want what sports offer—fitness, camaraderie, confidence, fun. And we love athletic men. (Believe me, we want large numbers of athletic men around a hell of a lot more than George Will does.) Both the men's cross-country and women's rowing teams are about sports in a way that transcends showbiz and chartered jets. Those teams are all about getting to play. And that's what Title IX is about: more wrestling and more women and more men and more sports funding in universities, period.