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Proportionality rule for sports needs to be reassessed

Jackson Poe

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Title IX is the law that gives women equal access to all publicly-supported education programs. The law was much needed in the early 70s and since Title IX was signed into law in 1972, the number of women enrolled in college has grown tremendously and long surpassed that of men. In this regard, Title IX has done its job, but in other areas it has created problems.

The problems stem from how Title IX relates to athletics. This is the part that many people are familiar with and the part that creates the most controversy.

The athletic part of Title IX requires “proportionality”. Proportionality is defined very arbitrarily. The law states that if a school is 60 percent female, then 60 percent of athletes should be women. This interpretation of proportionality simply does not correspond with the facts.

A 2012 study found that only 26 percent of college intramural participants are female. A 2013 study showed that only 34 percent of high school girls said sports was a big part of who they are versus 61 percent for boys. These are just two examples of how men and women participate in sports at different levels, one that is not directly proportional to the number of men and women.

Football adds to the issue. The Football Bowl Subdivision allows 85 scholarships with no female equivalent. The 85 football scholarships are thrown into proportionality equation and cause serious problems for other male sports, putting things closer to home. This is the main reason that the SEC sponsors 12 women’s sports but only 9 men’s. This is why Alabama has a women’s soccer team but not one for men. This is a possible contributing factor in UAB’s decision to kill its football program because it was not in compliance with Title IX proportionality. One solution would be to exclude football from the proportionality equation. It is in a completely different category and one of the very few revenue sports that fund other sports. There are many arguments to exclude it from the equation.

Often, schools find it easier to drop men’s sports than to keep adding women’s sports. Men’s soccer and wrestling have been popular choices for schools to drop. They have been absent from the SEC and Alabama for so long that people do not stop to question it anymore. According to the annual National High School Athletics Participation Survey, men’s soccer and wrestling rank fifth ands sixth, respectively, in high school popularity based on participation numbers, yet there are very few options for those athletes to continue in college.

This is not at all a slight to women’s sports. This is just a fact that, based on the high school participation numbers, men are competing for a small and shrinking number of spots on college athletic teams, while women’s teams are being added that have very small high school participation numbers. This leads to another answer to the proportionality definition problem: proportionality could be defined based on male and female high school athletics participation numbers. After all, it really boils down to the high school athletes, as they are the ones competing for spots on college athletic teams.

The key is defining proportionality in a way that actually relates to athletics. The goal is not to hurt any women’s programs; the goal is to keep all women’s programs but at the same time let Alabama have a men’s soccer team and let UAB keep the football team without concerns over Title IX compliance.

Jackson Poe is a junior majoring in finance and accounting. His column runs biweekly.

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Proportionality rule for sports needs to be reassessed