Sports and the gender gap
It’s no secret that a new gender gap exists on college campuses, including Chico State University. Women now significantly outnumber men, sometimes by a ratio as high as 60 percent to 40 percent. At Chico State, it’s 54-46.
Where are the men? Why aren’t they attending college?
Many high school and college officials are worried that a generation of young men is facing a bleaker future because so few of them are attending college.
Education officials suggest many reasons for this decline: Boys are more physically active and have a hard time thriving in an environment that favors girls; they mature slower than girls and often fall behind; they have higher rates of hyperactivity; and boys are less happy in school.
A few are also wondering whether Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that mandated gender equity in the funding of sports activities, has done too good a job.
One of them is Carrie Lukas, vice president of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism. In helping women, she argues, Title IX creates a situation in which men unjustly suffer in the process.
“We think that current enforcements are causing more problems than they’re solving,” Lukas said in a phone interview.
According to Chico State’s office of institutional research, since 1973, the female-to-male ratio has fluctuated, but the difference never ranged more than 4 percent until 1997 when it jumped to 8 percent, a number that has remained stable or higher since. That year, 1997, was when Chico State football got the boot, six years after the men and women’s swimming and diving, men and women’s golf and the Division I wrestling teams were cut.
Feminism was a powerful movement at the creation of Title IX, which was a centerpiece reform designed to make college athletics more equitable. Under its guidelines, the number of competitive athletes must reflect the student population for the school in order to receive federal funding.
Athletic Department officials at Chico State say it has opened doors for women in sports that did not exist just a couple of decades ago.
“Her [Lukas'] opinion is shared by some, but you have to take into account the achievements made toward equality,” said Mitch Cox, Chico State’s assistant athletic director. “Back in the old days—the ‘70s and early ‘80s—you had the men’s teams traveling in their brand-new uniforms, while the women stitched letters onto T-shirts and played in a dark gym.”
Now, women’s teams receive just as much funding and scholarships as men’s teams, Cox said. But he agrees that with these benefits, there have been unexpected consequences.
“There was this belief that schools would just be able to add women’s sports,” Cox said, “but they never took into consideration that would mean taking some men’s sports away.”
Gone at Chico State, for example, are boxing, tennis, water polo and gymnastics on top of the aforementioned football, wrestling, swimming and diving. Overall, men have lost competitive sports opportunities, while women have gained.
The problem, Lukas said, is that men still wish to compete in sports more than women.
“More men like to play sports, just like more women like to sing and act,” she explained. “The difference is that there is no quota system requiring the theater department to have the same percentage of men enrolled as are enrolled in the school.”
The figures for competitive sports clubs seem to support Lukas’ claim: 222 of 372 participants—almost 60 percent—so far this year at Chico State have been men, said Mary Wallmark, the university’s recreational-sports coordinator. These clubs do not have to conform to Title IX regulations.
Lukas notes that the U.S. Department of Education recently took a “step in the right direction” when it began allowing schools to take interest surveys determining who wants to play which sports. This approach, she said, will again “bring equal rights.”
“The student demand is what schools should offer,” Lukas said. “It shouldn’t be a numbers game.”
But it is, and Cox said the people it hurts most are Northern California high school male athletes who want to attend Chico State and compete intercollegiately.
“It’s sad, because Chico High uses our field to play football and they draw large crowds,” he said. “After high school, they have [no four-year college where they can] play ball unless they make Division I, which most won’t; want to play at Humboldt [State], or go to Southern California to play at a Division III school.”
There’s little chance that football will be brought back, however. Chico would have to play teams in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, which would be too expensive, said Anita Barker, Chico State’s athletic director.
But what about wrestling, swimming, water polo, tennis and gymnastics? These sports have relatively small squads and need little in the way of equipment. Colleges that want to attract more men need to emphasize programs for men, including sports, Lukas said.
It is illegal for universities to have gender targets or preferences with regard to admissions, university President Paul Zingg wrote in an e-mail. “So we’ll continue to have a strong, balanced intercollegiate program because that’s good for the university as a whole, not because it’s a recruitment tactic for male students.”