Thursday, March 29, 2007

The College Sports Council (CSC) yesterday highlighted a new study that finds “steep and steady declines” in college sports opportunities for men, including a pattern of men’s teams being eliminated during the past 25 years.

“Anyone that examines the data should be alarmed to see that schools have been cutting men’s teams across the board for years,” said Eric Pearson, Chairman of the CSC — the lead group pushing to reform the Title IX law that bars sex discrimination in college sports.

He and other CSC members said Title IX is largely to blame for the findings of his study, which used data taken from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, adjusted to account for the growing number of schools, such as junior colleges and Christian colleges, that have joined the NCAA in recent years.

“I think Title IX is overwhelmingly the main factor,” Mr. Pearson said.

Other studies, including government studies, haven’t painted such a bleak picture. But CSC officials said other studies have failed to account for the NCAA’s growth. Without fully accounting for that, “you tend to conceal the losses on the men’s side,” he said.

But critics of the study said simply blaming Title IX for these often complex changes isn’t right — or accurate.

“Title IX is one of the nation’s most successful civil rights laws,” said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women. “Now’s not the time to pull the rug out from underneath women and girls.”

The CSC study found particularly steep declines in the number of male swimmers and wrestlers.

It found, among other things, that more than 2,200 men’s athletic teams have been eliminated since 1981, and the total number of women’s teams has outstripped the number of men’s teams since 1995.

Even the popular pigskin has suffered — there has been a decline in the percentage of NCAA member schools sponsoring a football team, the study found. In 1981-82, the average number of men’s and women’s teams per NCAA school was 9.1 and 6.4, respectively, while in 2004-05 those numbers were 7.8 for men and 8.7 for women, it found.

But Ms. Maatz said a school’s decision to cut a team is often complex and could come from budget cuts, a focus on other types of sports or other factors. Title IX is also flexible, she said, and allows schools to comply in other ways than eliminating men’s teams. She noted women still have fewer slots available to them in college sports, and schools still spend less on women’s sports.

The CSC study does reflect that there are still many more men playing college sports than women, though it finds that male numbers are falling while female numbers are rising.

Title IX turns 35 this year. Ms. Maatz went to a conference yesterday to plan the anniversary celebration and discuss “the incredible progress that has been made.”

But Jessica Gavora, CSC Communications Director and author of “Tilting the Playing Field,” said the CSC study proves that repeated stories of men’s college sports teams being cut are indeed borne out of data.

“We’ve taken an honest look,” she said. “Men’s opportunities are diminishing.”

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