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The Title IX Grim Reaper

2008 June 5
by Brian Goff

A follow-up to Phil Miller’s May 13 post, Arizona State Eliminates Three Sports. When I saw this, I wondered what lay behind the decision. Past investigation and observation suggested three possible explanations:

1) The university decision makers are in a budget pinch. They overestimate the savings from dropping a sport by using budgetary “costs” that include fixed (often sunk) costs that won’t change if the sport is dropped.

2) The decision makers understand #1 but are using this strategically to make athletics appear as if it is “sharing the pain” of budget cuts more than it is. This might come about at the top administrative level or because of transfer prices to the athletic departments are set in a way which creates the incentive to reflect budget “costs” rather than actual costs savings.

3) Title IX goals are creating the incentive to cut men’s sports.

I have seen #1 in action at my institution many years ago, and possibly #2 in action just recently in the dropping of men’s soccer (although it maybe #3). I was not inclined to suspect #3 in the Arizona State because much of the Title IX reshuffling at schools like ASU already took place in the 1990s. A column, however, in the Arizona Republic (Title IX Headlock — pointer from Saving Sports blog) pulls no punches:

Yes, the decision to eliminate men’s wrestling, swimming and tennis is a reflection of the state’s free-falling revenues. Facing a $3.4 million deficit, eliminating the three programs will save ASU $350,000. Budget cuts, of course, are necessary for all enterprises that must meet a bottom line, and the programs headed by Lisa Love, the ASU athletic director, are no different. But the choices that left ASU with eight men’s programs and 12 for women were forced on the university as much by federal requirements regarding proportional resource allocation for men and women – Title IX, in other words – as by the need to cut spending. Given the extraordinary impact – both good and bad, by the way – that Title IX has had on college sports, it is irresponsible to pretend that elephant isn’t there.

As part of the story, it does come out that ASU is engaging in some of #2. By the schools statement in Phil’s post, they would save $1.1 million. By the Republic’s figuring, this is more like $350,000, which lines up with studies of athletic accounting that I have done. For goodness sakes, the school is not filling in the pool or building a new structure on the tennis courts. The wrestling mats and facility — well, they will be continue to rented to a local group.

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