Debunking the Title IX myth

August 9, 2008
Burns OrtizBy Maria Burns Ortiz
(Archive)

Editor's note: Passed in 1972, Title IX states that no one in the United States should be excluded from, denied the benefit of, or discriminated against when it comes to educational programs or activities that receive any federal funding.

The success of women's collegiate soccer has not -- contrary to what some people might believe -- come at the expense of the men's game.

APTitle IX has seen women's college soccer rise in prominence.

The past few seasons, I've noticed a growing rumbling (and resentment) from those who argue Title IX is sucking the life out of men's soccer. Readers, fans, parents and even the occasional player always put it the same way, "I know people don't want to come out and say it, but it's true." And then they go on to complain about how Title IX is hampering the sport.

But the truth is, that's not true at all.

Let me start by saying I am not here to beat the Title IX drum.

Yes, I'm a woman (which in some people's minds is going to immediately discredit anything I have to say; so be it).

Yes, as a former collegiate athlete, I benefited from the legislation (I refer to the aforementioned parenthetical).

Yes, I think Title IX overall is a positive thing (and I think many people will agree).

No, I don't think it's perfect (again, ditto on the previous parenthesis).

Now that I've put my cards on the table, hopefully, we can move forward. The whole point here is to put Title IX into perspective as it applies to college soccer and to dispel what seem to be some of the more common misconceptions.

First off, there are not fewer opportunities for male players nor have men's soccer programs declined as a result of Title IX -- or at all.

The number of Division I men's programs has risen from 182 to 202 during the past 26 years. The number of players per squad has also increased from 25.4 to 27.4 during that span. This means that there were 4,623 roster spots available in the early '80s compared to 5,535 in 2007.

The truth is men's soccer is one of the NCAA sports to have the greatest net gains during the past 20 years. Among college sports, soccer ranks fifth nationally in men's and women's fielded sports.

In a recent report published in 2008 (NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report), the NCAA lists 11 men's sports that have been frequently dropped by various institutions during the past quarter century -- none of which are soccer.

Have some programs been cut in the name of Title IX compliance? Sure. But I tend to agree with NCAA president Myles Brand, who told reporters in 2003 in an address to the National Press Club, "Title IX has been used as an excuse to close these programs. It is not the reason."

The real reason is money.

Again, despite what many opponents might say, women's soccer does not take away valuable money from men's soccer. Don't believe it? Well, it doesn't really matter, because it's true.

I've said before that I'm not a math expert, but here's some basic arithmetic that even I can do. If your program turns a profit of negative dollars, then you don't actually have any money for anyone to take.

In the case of soccer and all nonrevenue sports, you're getting your money from either a revenue sport (football and basketball) or other institutional source (such as mandatory student fees). If anyone has a right to feel their money is being misappropriated, it's the students who wouldn't know a penalty kick if it hit them in the face, but are still obligated to take out extra dollars in loans to help support sports that they couldn't care less about.

While we're on the subject of money, let's talk scholarships funds. This is what gets people most up in arms. Yes, women's Division I soccer programs are allotted 14 scholarships, while men's programs get 9.9. Is this 100 percent fair? In terms of solely comparing men's to women's soccer, no.

Of course, we already know Title IX isn't perfect. But men's football teams (with their 85 scholarships) travel by chartered jet, and I'll bet athletes traveling to soccer games by bus don't feel that's completely fair, either.

Although it seems to be a commonly held belief, more women's scholarships don't translate into less men's funding. In 1995, NCAA rules provided for 11 women's soccer scholarships and 9.9 for men's. That means that although women's scholarships have increased -- because of Title IX -- the negative impact on men's scholarships has been zero.

Additionally, under Title IX (and way oversimplified by me for the sake of this story), scholarship money is to be allocated based on the percentage of student-athletes that are of each gender. And there is not a requirement for schools to have 50 percent of each. In fact, 57.2 percent of the NCAA's student-athletes are male, meaning that per Title IX, 57.2 percent of the scholarship money goes to men's sports.

With more than half of the scholarship money going to men's programs, it makes it tough to argue that the women's programs are stealing it away.

"I tend not to blame Title IX," BYU club soccer coach Chris Watkins said in the summer of 2007, explaining why some schools choose not to field men's programs. "I think it's athletic directors and their overspending on college football that has led to this problem, not necessarily laws that are there to help women."

Football is the catch-22 when it comes to Title IX. Some argue football should be exempt because it is such a profit generator (or is supposed to be). Some maintain that because the sport is run differently than any other sport and because it does not have a women's counterpart in the sense that most other sports do, it should be removed from the Title IX equation. These are valid points, but as the NCAA looks likely to maintain the status quo in the immediate future, it doesn't really matter. Football is going to be counted as is, and as long as that happens, some men's programs will likely struggle -- albeit not at the hands of women's sports.

Speaking of football, people regularly blame the fact that a number of football powerhouses (such as Big 12 or SEC schools) don't field men's soccer teams on Title IX as well. Never mind that they didn't field soccer teams before Title IX even existed.

And if Miami had men's soccer, would that change the face of the U.S. team as we know it? Could it really be possible that the entire reason -- or even a fraction of a reason -- that our national team has failed to reach the upper echelon of international competition is because the University of Southern California doesn't field a men's soccer team? I highly doubt it.

Let's be honest. If Title IX was thrown out and schools could allocate all their money into whatever programs they wanted, do you really believe they would take any money earmarked for women's sports and put it into the cash cow that is men's college soccer? I didn't think so.

With all the controversy, the real purpose of Title IX tends to be overshadowed. Title IX was put in place to help promote women's sports -- and it has.

Looking just at collegiate soccer, in 1981 (almost a decade after Title IX's inception), there were 22 women's Division I soccer programs compared to 182 men's programs. You want to talk about who was getting the short end of the stick? Since then, women's soccer has exploded with over 600 schools (Divisions I through III) fielding programs. In 1999, soccer surpassed track and field as the most participated women's collegiate sport.

The proliferation of NCAA women's soccer has contributed in large part to the success of the women's national team. Most soccer fans and those pushing for greater visibility of the game at all levels would say that's a good thing.

Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.