By Laura Pappano
Given that the Super Bowl is a distant memory, the NFL Combine is done – and we have a day or two before spring college football begins (yes, games are now broadcast on TV), we have a sliver of free air to highlight Vanderbilt vice Chancellor David Williams’ contention that football is the biggest challenge to Title IX compliance.
“We have 330 varsity athletes, 110 are on the football team,” he said. “So if you want me to get to 50-50, that means I have slots for 55 men other than football.”
At the panel discussion at Vanderbilt earlier this week (read news report here), there was, naturally, a wrestling coach present to dutifully complain that Title IX was crushing his sport. In fact, wrestling simply is not as popular as it used to be.
When FGN interviewed Linda Jean Carpenter and C. Vivian Acosta, who have tracked college sports participation since 1977, they made the point: “The face of athletics changes, sports become popular and unpopular. They wax and wane. Gymnastics for men and women is a contracting sport. Same with wrestling,” said Carpenter. “To the wrestler on the team, it is the only thing that exists. In the world, wrestling is waning. It is not waning because of Title IX, but because of poor administrative decisions.”
If we can put the wrestling matter to rest, there is a serious debate to have about the role of football in college life (or should we talk about the role of college in football life?)
Unlike baseball, which is a major professional sport and a minor college sport because MLB has its own farm system, football uses college campuses as their talent development league. (Much as the NBA, although they even reach down to the HS level.)
This necessarily skews the entire conversation about equity. Coaches are paid more. Recruits are more fretted after and coveted (signing day celebrations, anyone?). Colleges bend over to build professional-style facilities and court fans as if they are attracting them to for-profit sports franchise events and not what they are: non-profit institutions receiving federal benefits – and in the case of state institutions – supported by public tax dollars.
I love football. And, from what I gather, I’m not alone. But it’s a big game with a big cost – to institutional equity and, yes, even men’s sports.