Yesterday, Vanderbilt University student Sarah Fuller made history. She became the first woman to compete in a Power 5 Conference football game when she kicked off to start the 2nd half. Although there were some people on Twitter who were against her playing, I was all for Sarah Fuller. I was hoping yesterday that she would have had an opportunity to kick an extra point or a field goal in the game. That would have been a great moment for her, and a great moment for college sports.
But when looking at her kickoff, a squib kick to the 30-yard line, it was possible to conclude that she did not have the leg strength to drive the ball high enough or far enough for their kick-off team to been able to cover a deep kick properly. So, I wondered why they didn’t ask a player from the men’s soccer team to kick for them? They couldn’t. The Vanderbilt’s men’s soccer program was dropped in 2006. “The college cited Title IX as the reason for its decision.” At the time, there was a great outcry over this decision to drop the program. The team was coming off its best season in school history. Their coach, Tim McClements, was named conference coach of the year that season, but the program was dropped, anyway.
Like other laws and rules, Title IX has produced unintended consequences that actually work against the spirit of the law. Title IX was crafted to give women more opportunities in sports, but its implementation has also denied some men their collegiate athletic opportunities. As a result of the equitability requirements of Title IX, universities across the country have been forced to cut men’s sports programs to bring their women’s and men’s sports in compliance with number of participants. Since its implementation in 1972, over 400 men’s sports programs have been eliminated to become Title IX compliant, mainly sports like soccer, wrestling, and swimming.
Clemson recently decided to cut its prestigious Men’s Track and Field program due to Title IX compliance. Any type of discrimination, ends up hurting everyone, not only those who are directly hurt. Clemson Women's Track and Field team member Leah Disher said, "It's much harder to recruit athletes to come to Clemson after something like this… It doesn't make us look like a family, it doesn't make us look like a school that wants unity, it just makes them look like they don't care about our track team and I don't think people are going to want to come to that environment."
Maybe the reason why the US Women’s Soccer National Team performs so much better in international competition than the US Men’s Soccer National Team is that due to Title IX compliance standards, there are far fewer scholarships and college programs for men in soccer than women. I’m all for women getting every possible opportunity to compete in competitive sports, but I’m also for men getting every possible opportunity as well, but the way Title IX is written, men’s programs many times are forced to be dropped to comply with the letter of the law.
Sarah Fuller’s great moment shines the light on what women are capable of doing athletically, but also brings to light other potential great moments by other college athletes that have been denied. It is not necessarily a victory for progress if your opportunity was created at the expense of someone else’s opportunity, any more than it was right 50 years ago that men denied women opportunities to advance themselves. The spirit of Title IX was to create an environment for all people to compete, not to deny certain people a chance to play.
The discrimination that women faced in athletics over the years was wrong not because it was denying women opportunities but it was denying human beings opportunities. Women are human being, just as men are. So, denying anyone the opportunity to compete for any reason other than ability is wrong. It was wrong to deny women a chance to play because they were women, and it is wrong to cut men’s sports programs because they are men’s programs.
For those who say that this is payback for hundreds of years of sexism and discrimination that women have endured, remember the people hurt by this retribution are not the sexist men who are dead and gone but the 17, 18, 19 year old kids who won’t get to fulfill their athletic dreams of playing college sports, who by the way never discriminated against anyone. Are they being punished for the sins of people who happen to be of their same gender? Is that the best way to combat sexism? Deny men opportunities because they are men?
In the end, the goal for universities’ athletic programs should be to create as many opportunities for both women and men to compete in inter-collegiate athletics. And although Title IX was never designed to eliminate opportunities, it has become the catalysts for a zero-sum game between men’s and women’s sports on college campuses.
This isn’t about who kicked the ball off in Vanderbilt’s 41-0 loss on Saturday, nor is this is a call to eliminate Title IX. Title IX has been important to bringing opportunities for women in sports, and it has been effective in achieving more athletic equally between the sexes. This is about fine-tuning Title IX so every qualified female athlete has the chance to play collegiate sports, and every qualified male athlete has the exact same opportunity.
Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a frequent contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.