HENAGAN: Value beyond profits

Male and female athletics programs at the University should receive equal funding

According to the NCAA Gender-Equity Task Force: “An athletics program can be considered gender equitable when the participants in both the men’s and women’s sports programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender. No individual should be discriminated against on the basis of gender, institutionally or nationally, in intercollegiate athletics.” Title IX, a clause in the Education Amendments of 1972, essentially declares students cannot be discriminated against based on sex.

At the University, sports like football turn seven-figure profits approaching sums of over three million dollars annually; football and other male sports generate the lion’s share of the nearly $11 million profit the school’s athletic department accrued in the 2011 fiscal year. Women’s sports appear to be a bad financial investment.

Ostensibly, the smart business decision would be to cut, or reduce to club status, many of the programs the Strategic Planning Task Force for the Department of Athletics has labeled “third-tier sports.” The Task Force listed “women’s golf (if added), softball, women’s tennis, women’s cross-country, women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball” in the second-lowest categorization of importance for the department. At the heart of the issue is that aggressive male sports are considered more entertaining to watch and have a stronger following, therefore generating more revenue.

According to University professor Steven E. Rhoads, author of “Taking Sex Differences Seriously”, “the best way to judge the strength of interest in playing competitive athletics” is to look at the discrepancy between male versus female participation in intramural sports. At the University, IM sports announced, “most Men’s and CoRec leagues will now be featuring Competitive and Recreational Divisions.” There is no mention of just women’s leagues receiving (or pushing for) this kind of change in female IM sports leagues. I think it is safe to say that — at least at the University — men generally have a greater investment in intramural competitions than women do.

However, no university should ever intentionally fund men’s athletics over women’s athletics programs for one simple reason: it sends the wrong message about equality. If our society is serious about bridging the wage gap between men and women, universities like our own should be the place where that idealism has a chance to flourish.

The University is not a business, and we do not have professional sports teams. The goal of our athletic department should be to build student-athletes; meaning, athletics is a supplemental part of a student’s education, not the focus of it. The purpose of a professional sports team is first and foremost to entertain fans; therefore, the most entertaining sports — which happen to be male — should make the most money. On the other hand, students who participate in collegiate athletics are not entertainers. They are not allowed to showboat during play, they are held to a higher standard of conduct, and they are unpaid.

While it is true that some athletes are simply using college as a stepping-stone to the professional level in their sport, few college athletes go on to play professionally. Women’s sports deserve just as much funding as men’s sports because they both achieve the same goals in terms of teaching the students the lessons sports has to offer. Your sport is not your major; it is an extracurricular activity.

To highlight the current discrepancy, female collegiate sports teams across the country receive less than 40 percent of college sports operating dollars and 33 percent of the funding for recruitment. These numbers tell women that their athletic accomplishments literally have less dollar value than those of men. Of the three medals brought home by Virginia athletes at the London Olympic Games, two were by women. Both were gold. Are their medals and international accomplishments worth less than a football team that won two games this year yet remains the only other sport labeled “top-tier” besides men’s and women’s basketball?

There are parts of Title IX that hurt male sports, like wrestling, whose programs are being cut due to the equal ratio statute in IX which states that a given school’s ratio of male to female athletes must be proportionate to their ratio of male to female students overall. But it is important to put in perspective the real purpose of collegiate athletics, and I ask readers to remember that a university sends a message with how it funds programs. Bridging the gap between gender inequalities is not an overnight process, but to unequally fund sports teams tells the world that the University places more value on one sex as opposed to the other.

Will Henagan is a Viewpoint Writer.

Published March 27, 2014 in Opinion

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