Sunday, June 24, 2012

Title IX at 40

A few very random thoughts on this notable anniversary:

  • I'm glad that girls and women get to play. More options are always better. And there is at least as much joy in watching Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus as there is watching any other basketball player. They are very impressive players, as are their teammates.
  • I graduated from high school in the early 1980s and women's sports programs were still relatively new. The progress they have made is simply astonishing. As it happened, my high school had some very good women's teams and we even won the state basketball title in 1978. If you go to a game today, the level of play is far superior. The best player on that 1978 team, who earned a scholarship to play at Iowa, would be good enough to start for a modern high school team, but I think most of the rest of the players would be lucky to be reserves now. There's a reason for that, about which more in a moment.
  • It's worth pointing out that there are side effects to Title IX that aren't so good, though. First, it has meant in some cases that sports programs for men have been cut. It still bothers me that the University of Wisconsin does not field a baseball team, in large part because it's necessary to keep the overall participation numbers in line. That's not good.
  • Second, and more important, the women's sports do not generate enough revenue to be self-supporting. There are instances, primarily in women's college basketball at places like the University of Tennessee and UConn, where programs pay for themselves, but in the main that is not the case. As a practical matter, that lack of self-support has meant that the revenue producing sports at the large college level, especially football, have had to be even more corporate and business-like. I don't think that is a particularly good development.
  • One other thing that is less than desirable is that I see girl's sports, especially at the youth level, starting to emulate some of the less savory trends you see in youth sports for boys. My daughter has played softball for most of her childhood but her only option this year was to play for a traveling team, which would have involved a time commitment and cost that didn't make sense for her or for our family. She's finding other ways to stay active this summer, but she misses it. The youth programs increasingly are farm systems for the local high school programs and that's not necessarily the best reason to run a program. It does mean that the high school teams play at a much higher level than they did 30 years ago, but in some respects it also means that girls who might want to play for the fun of it are essentially weeded out at an early age. That seems counter to the spirit of what Title IX is supposed to be about. I wouldn't want to put this emphasis at the feet of Title IX, because it's more of a function of the problems inherent in youth sports generally, but it's worth pointing out. We are taking a lot of the joy of sports out of the game at the youth level and it's disheartening that the girl's programs are following the same pernicious model that the boys use.


Brian said...

I cannot prove it, but I have a strong suspicion that the corporatization of money sports would have happened even if Title IX did not.

The proliferation of adult rec leagues for things like kickball, dodgeball, and ultimate frisbee suggest that you are absolutely right about kids who just want to play sports for fun being weeded out too young. That is a real shame. You shouldn't have to wait until your 30s to simply play for the fun of it.

Mr. D said...

I cannot prove it, but I have a strong suspicion that the corporatization of money sports would have happened even if Title IX did not.

Probably, but I think there's at least a chance that Title IX hastened the process.

And you are 100% correct about the adult youth rec leagues.