THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
School is back in session and for a lot of girls in junior high and high school, it means that they are back on the field playing interscholastic sports. Throughout New Jersey and the rest of the country there is tremendous pressure to cut educational costs and one area that may be impacted at some point in the near future is women's sports.
Women athletes in high school can now get college athletic scholarships, something that for the most part was not available to women athletes before 1972. Some people though would like to go back to the pre-1972 days when men ruled the athletic world on the college level.
So it should come as no surprise on the college level that women's sports programs may face significant cutbacks in the future. There is an impression that women sports have been targeted since the implementation of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed by the House of Representatives and the United States Senate and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon. Title IX was a civil rights law pushed by both Republicans and Democrats and became the law of the land when a Republican President signed the bill.
The impression is correct. Women's sports on the collegiate level is never secure in terms of available scholarships.
The Title IX legislation premise is rather simple. The United States Code, Section 20 states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
If colleges wanted to receive federal subsidies, they had to get rid of the quota system which prevented some women from going to law schools or study medicine. There is no mention of sports in Title IX yet there has been a battle of the last 38 years over sports funding and how women's sports requirements have taken money away from men's sports.
Soon after Title IX became the law of the land, Senator John Tower, a Texas Republican, tried to exempt sports from the Title IX legislation soon after President Nixon's signature was affixed to the bill because Tower thought men's sports would suffer greatly as money for men's sports would flow to the women. Tower lost as did the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the august body in charge of college sports, did not like the fact that women's sports had to be funded.
There has not been an assault on Title IX and sports so far in the Obama Presidency. During the Bush years, Title IX became an issue but the Bush administration left the law as is and women now compete on high levels in basketball and other sports unimpeded.
But women's sports are still under assault. The International Olympic Committee dumped softball from the summer games and replaced men's baseball and softball with rugby and golf. That decision has not sat well with Brandi Chastain who was a member of the 1999 United States Women's Soccer team that won the Women's World Cup.
"As a female athlete, there were a lot of hurdles I had to jump over," said Chastain who was the only scholarship athlete on her team at Santa Clara University. "But I don't see Tiger Woods and I don't see rugby taking the place of softball. I see that as an IOC (International Olympic Committee) decision. I don't think it is like trying to replace the female athlete so I don't see the battle being there. But the battle I have is that women's softball traditionally has been a wonderful event at the Olympic Games so I would like to see it stay.
"Not only because the US does so well, Japan, China, Australia, Canada are also overachievers at that level and I just think it is important to continue. That's a grass root sport, I think, around the world and it is important for the IOC to recognize it and continue to support it. I don't want to see the IOC become focused only on sports that it can make money. I think the Olympics is bigger and better than that."
The IOC has dropped softball for 2012 in London and said no to softball in Rio in 2016. There are theories as to why the IOC delegates said no. The most common is that the IOC wanted to punish the Americans for not forcing Major League Baseball to send the best known players in the world to the Games and because American women were too gold in softball. Additionally, at the time of the IOC's decision in 2009, Tiger Woods was riding high and would be a valuable addition to the Olympics program for name recognition and more importantly real Olympic gold — Woods endorsement money and some of that cash would make it to the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Money is always a major IOC consideration. Woods and golf were worth more than a bunch of unknown softball players.
Meanwhile Title IX is always under assault. The Title IX issue is quiet right now but with the drumbeat of cutting educational costs getting louder and louder, it is inevitable that Title IX will become an issue again on the college level.
The basic argument will revert to Senator Tower's assertion in the 1970s that funding women's sports is killing mens sports. That men are losing opportunities because colleges have to give women scholarships in soccer, volleyball, softball and other sports and that men' sports teams are being eliminated.
"It is very easy to give the argument you just suggested," said Chastain. "But (women's soccer player) Julie Foudy having worked with a committee (The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics in 2002) on this and really fighting to keep Title IX where it is, alive and very much in the forefront of what happens. It is not a sports law. It is an educational law and so I think that's one thing that people don't realize.
"I think also what individuals who are quick to say that it is taking away from men's sports don't realize — it is also up to each individual institution to make decisions on where money is spent. Now if you want to have men's football, for example — during a home game stay at a hotel, have catered meals, that (cost) could probably take care of men's diving or men's wrestling for a season. That's a department decision. That's not the existence of women's softball doing that.
"The facts are not straight on really the impact sports are having on each other or supporting each other. So it is critical Title IX exists because, again, I underline this and emphasize this. It is education, it is not about sports. It is education in the classroom and education on the field and that needs to be paramount in the understanding of what Title IX is all about."
Chastain said women athletes needs to be constantly reminded of the opportunities that exist because of Title IX and to this day she does not know why the Bush Administration wanted to weaken the legislation.
"I think it also interesting how perspective changes when families and especially fathers, people who make big decisions have daughters," said Chastain. "I think it was so perplexing when Bush was attempting to lessen the value of Title IX because he has daughters. So to me, it didn't make any sense and I am thankful there was no flip flopping of the law itself. Stability is good."
Title IX has been the law of the land since 1972. Women have made advances in numerous fields including medicine and law, two areas where there was a glass ceiling. It will be interesting to see if there will be another try at changing the legislation after January when there will be a new Congress and the way things are going with cutbacks and disinformation that is put out there on a daily basis, surely Title IX will again be reviewed at some point.
The prevailing thinking is that Title IX seems to be just a jock law that has hurt men's sports. It is not. It was a civil rights law that had bipartisan support in 1972 designed to give women equal opportunities in education with men.