SI Vault
Edited by Alexander Wolf and Richard O'Brien
February 06, 1995
The Third Sex
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February 06, 1995


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The Third Sex

What you, didn't know? There are in fact three sexes: male, female and football. Or so it would seem if you listen to the College Football Association and the American Football Coaches Association, which are lobbying in Washington to secure preferential treatment for their sport under Title IX, the law that requires colleges receiving federal funds to provide equitable sports opportunities for women. The football lobby points to its game's huge numbers: 85 scholarship players on Division I-A teams and squads of as many as 130 that gobble up a huge number of participation opportunities. It goes on to argue that this cast of thousands (and by extension its budgets of millions) should be exempt when the feds use as one of their three tests of Title IX compliance whether the ratio of male to female athletes at a school correlates with the student body as a whole. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R., III.), a former high school football and wrestling coach, has promised to hold hearings before the House Labor and Education Committee in March, with an eye to eliminating the proportionality guideline.

To bring the totals of male and female athletes into balance, a school can either spend more on women's sports, pare away at football or cut low-profile men's sports like wrestling. More and more colleges are choosing the last of those options, which is why the National Wrestling Coaches Association is also lobbying to have King Football treated as a separate entity. Of course, as colleges attempt to comply with the law, they shouldn't be slackening their commitment to minor men's sports; civil rights statutes are supposed to lift disadvantaged groups, not lower others to disadvantaged status. But with increased spending not an option for most schools, Hastert and his congressional colleagues shouldn't give football a free pass—and should keep their truth detectors at hand.

Myth: Football underwrites women's sports. In fact, only about one fifth of the NCAA's 554 football teams even pay for themselves; one third of the programs in Division I-A are running an annual deficit that averages more than $1 million. A Congress that rode to power waving the banner of fiscal responsibility would be derelict to ignore these figures.

Myth: Football has already been cut to the bone. In fact, the sport maintains some breathtakingly spendthrift habits, routinely quartering entire squads in off-campus hotels on Friday nights before home games, for instance, and buying out $1 million coaches to hire $2 million ones. By cutting scholarships from the current Division I-A limit or turning some full rides into partial ones, schools could come into compliance, and the game would actually become more balanced as the major powers could no longer stockpile talented bench warmers.

The courts have consistently upheld Title IX, and on four separate occasions Congress has refused to exempt any sport from the law's purview. But Hastert sounds like a man both determined to overturn precedent and loath to touch football. "Football is unique," he says. "I do not want to take on a national shrine." Fortunately, a coalition of organizations representing coaches of non-revenue-producing sports besides wrestling—among them field hockey, gymnastics, Softball, swimming, track and field, volleyball and water polo—realizes what the wrestling coaches apparently do not: that it's pointless for have-not men to do battle against have-not women. These groups are mobilizing to get the focus back on football, that overfed sacred cow. With noncompliance still prevailing some 23 years after Title IX's enactment, that's precisely where that focus belongs.

P's and Q's, L's and W's
The letter p may appear in the middle of the alphabet, but there's nothing middling about either Prairie View A&M or Penn. The Panthers, curators of a 46-game losing streak in football, have had their fecklessness extended to hoops, in which they were 3-15 at week's end and ranked dead last in the most recent power ratings. Has any school had a sorrier simultaneous showing in those two sports—and has any school fared better at them than Penn? In football the Quakers have strung together two straight unbeaten seasons and a Division I-AA record 21 consecutive victories, while the basketball team (page 62) is headed for an unprecedented third perfect Ivy League season in a row after last Saturday's 69-50 victory over Princeton. All of which makes the Quakers predators, and the Panthers pacifists. And us confused.

Carrying a Big Stick

What does the President know and how does he know it? That's the question raised by the White House's decision to become more involved in efforts to end the baseball strike. President Clinton justified the move by framing the dispute as an issue affecting thousands of jobs and set a Feb. 6 deadline by which he expects to see substantial progress. Last week three prominent labor lawyers, all experienced in working with federal mediators, told SI that Clinton wouldn't have acted unless mediator William Usery could see a way to break the deadlock, which has prevailed for nearly six months.

If that's true, there are only political positives for the White House in intervening. The Comeback-to-the-Table Kid is in desperate need of causes to champion that are unrelated to those in the Republicans' Contract With America. The baseball strike is an issue likely to appeal to the white males who deserted the Democrats during the midterm elections. And even if the two sides, which were set to resume face-to-face negotiations on Wednesday, fail to reach a settlement by the deadline, Clinton could send terms drawn up by Usery to Congress for action. In any case, the President may have found an issue on which he can be a leader.

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