The headline “Stanford University cutting eleven of its varsity sports programs, plus twenty staff positions” shocked the sports world. In the midst of a pandemic, Stanford felt the need to shave down their vast collections of varsity sports. The programs chosen were men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, co-ed and women's sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball, and wrestling.
For the wrestling world, reading about program cuts is nothing out of the ordinary. Data compiled by Gary Abbott, director of special projects at USA Wrestling, indicates that in 2001, 244,984 athletes were wrestling in high schools across America. Only 5,966 were able to wrestle in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. However, in 1982, there were 363 NCAA wrestling teams with 7,914 wrestlers competing, yet in 2001, only 229 teams competed. In the same period, the number of NCAA institutions has increased from 787 to 1,049. What is happening to college wrestling? Is there simply a lack of interest from students, is Title IX the direct cause, or is Title IX becoming the scapegoat for another complicated issue?
A discussion of Title IX and its impact
By Mason Mccallum and Brian Delaney
Cutting sports programs is not an easy task for athletic programs regardless of outside circumstances. While an assumption exists that schools only need to cut programs that produce the least amount of revenue, universities also need to be aware of federal law and Title IX restrictions. Schools must be fair and equitable to stay within the guidelines of Title IX when deciding to cut programs. In fact, Title IX is one of the key determining factors when financially challenged schools are forced to make difficult decisions to cut programs.
Regardless of the financial struggles that a majority of athletic programs face, they still have to abide by federal law. Title IX, by ensuring men and women have equitable participation opportunities as well as access to scholarships. The 1979 interpretation of Title IX from the Department of Education requires colleges and universities to meet the following criteria:
All financial assistance (scholarships) should be available on a substantially proportional basis to the number of male and female participants in the institution’s athletic program. Male and female athletes should receive equivalent treatment, benefits, and opportunities from equipment and supplies, games and practice times, housing and dining facilities, etc. The athletic interests and abilities of male and female students must be equally effectively accommodated.
Schools sometimes claim that to meet the federal law's goal of providing equal opportunities for athletes of all genders, they have eliminated men's teams to keep their overall rosters in line with the number of women playing sports. Towson University graduate Scott Hargest recommended, “cutting men’s baseball and soccer to resolve what administrators said were budgetary and Title IX compliance issues.” Hargest, though, is skeptical of the university's justification for cutting sports, claiming instead that Towson University wanted to “shift money to major, revenue-generating sports” and used Title IX as a reason to eliminate some of the low-profile men’s teams.
Towson was only evaluating men’s teams because of the first criteria from the Department of Education, which emphasizes that universities must maintain proportional spending based on the overall proportion of students by gender. It is particularly hard to continuously rely on proportionality as enrollment for women continues to outnumber men across the nation. Schools with football teams, that have dozens of players, find it especially difficult to comply with proportionality as there is no comparable team for women and football is one of the few sports that consistently turns a significant profit. Schools decide to invest in marquee sports like basketball and football to gain more visibility and potentially money from their investment. Rather than admitting they distinctly made a choice about budget priority and money, Lisa Maatz, policy director of the American Association of University Women, believes universities blame gender, not money, as the root cause of the issue.
Universities and colleges lacking finances during the coronavirus pandemic are forced to make difficult decisions about who gets to keep playing. All sports must be scrutinized fairly and equitably, to ensure that each university maintains its compliance with Title IX and the federal law. The College of William and Mary has already cut seven sports from its roster, and Old Dominion University has only cut one, men’s wrestling. 150 students are affected by these results, and even though the schools are facing financial hardships, Title IX still applies. The conflict between money and equality that lies at the heart of athletic programs' decisions related to Title IX leads to some fundamental questions. Why do we have college sports? Are athletics for revenue at universities, or are they part of a scholastic experience? Why are decisions for an ostensibly scholastic activity so frequently influenced by finances first?