Still wrestling with issues of equality

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Marilyn McNeil's formula for gender equality in college sports sounds fairly simple: Instead of wiping out an entire men's wrestling program to find money for women's teams, why not cut the 92nd player on the football team?

And the 91st. And so forth.

''There are a number of athletes out there who never get their uniform dirty,'' said McNeil, the athletic director at Monmouth University in New Jersey. ''Thirty years from now they'll be sitting in a bar talking about their days on the varsity, and we never ask them, 'Did you ever actually play?'''

McNeil offered her thoughts during the NCAA's two-day seminar marking the 30th anniversary of Title IX, the law that that requires schools receiving federal money to provide equal opportunities for men and women.

While Title IX has slowly revolutionized sports opportunities for women, hundreds of men's sports programs have been cut nationwide with Title IX often cited as the reason.

Wrestling has been hit particularly hard, to the point that the National Wrestling Coaches Association recently filed suit against the Education Department. The suit essentially claims Title IX doesn't fulfill its intent if it's used to restrict men's opportunities and not increase women's.

Supporters of Title IX couldn't agree more, but they say the fault lies with the universities and not with the law.

That's one of the reasons the NCAA is conducting the seminar, with sessions that include McNeil's ''Roster Management: Altern-atives to Cutting Teams.''

McNeil has been fighting tradition since her arrival at Monmouth in 1994, but her story is a successful one.

She cut the men's basketball recruitment budget in half with no ill effects -- in fact, the Hawks went to the NCAA tournament two years later.

Football causes the big imbalance for Title IX because of its huge roster size and because there's no comparable women's sport. Still, Monmouth added football in 1993 without having to cut a men's sport. Women's rosters at the school have been increased -- the soccer team has 25 players -- while coaches of men's teams have been asked to cut players who never really have a chance of playing.

''Title IX has not been about cutting sports -- it's about equal opportunity for men and women,'' McNeil said. ''Why do we talk about how tough it is for men to lose one or two spots and in the same breath talk about women not even having an opportunity to have a squad?''

Several speakers said severed men's sports should blame football and men's basketball, not Title IX, for using up roster spots and athletic budgets.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, assailed the practice of putting football teams in hotels before home games.

McNeil said she'd like to get Monmouth's football roster down to 88.

''Where is football? They have been extremely quiet,'' McNeil said. ''That's because they're getting more than their fair share at the table. Wrestling should have gone after football.''

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