It's hard not to feel for the men of the Virginia track team. When they heard this weekend that the recommendations of a University task force included the elimination of the men's indoor track team and the creation of a women's golf team, they understandably felt betrayed. The proposed changes would cripple the Cavalier men's track program. But the outraged runners, jumpers and throwers should keep in mind the University has few other options.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, gentlemen. It tolls for thee. The University simply could not find another way to push its ratio of male to female athletes towards the mark mandated by Title IX.
Unfortunately, the men's track team is not the first lower-level men's squad to be fatally wounded by that legendary statute. For all the good Title IX has done in ensuring the funding of women's athletics, it has also undeniably had the unintended effect of slowly killing off men's programs like track across the NCAA landscape.
Make no mistake about it - if the indoor team is eliminated, the men's track program as a whole will wither significantly. With the middle chunk of the year-long track season cut out, Virginia won't be able to recruit or keep top-level athletes. According to Virginia track coach Randy Bungard, several Cavaliers already have discussed the possibility of transferring if the proposal goes through.
Even more importantly, the men's track program - placed in the last of the proposed four tiers - would be limited to regional competition. An athlete would not be able to compete in prestigious meets around the country, no matter how successful he became.
But if proponents of small men's sports like track are looking for a reason for their plight, they won't find it in their athletic counterparts on the women's side. The largest reason why universities cannot find enough resources for them is the huge amount of money sucked up by football, a sport without a female equivalent to balance it.
Since football uses up such a huge percentage of the funds college athletics departments can spend on men's sports, simple math dictates that the rest of the men's teams get squeezed. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, don't have to compete with football for resources.
Football uses 85 scholarships, far more than men's sports like baseball, wrestling, golf, tennis and track combined. Under the proposal, those five sports would lose what little scholarship money they currently have.
The fault lies not with football itself, but instead with a law that fails to recognize the obvious differences between that sport and the rest of the NCAA universe. College basketball hypnotizes the nation every March, but football brings in the vast majority of an athletics department's revenue. That's where all the money for the other sports comes from in the first place.
Perhaps separating the breadwinner from the mouths it feeds is a solution. On the other hand, simply subtracting football from Title IX consideration is a step that could present its own problems. But after almost 30 years of Title IX, it is clear that in the effort to get women's sports on the field, it is small men's sports that get sent to the sidelines.