Schu Strings: Gender Equity

Thirty years after its implementation, Title IX has successfully changed the way college athletics is operated. Certainly, it has been a benefit for women's athletics, but it wouldn't have to undercut men's participation if one simple factor were excluded.

The term equity is the rub when translating the so-called intent of Title IX, possibly the most controversial legislation in collegiate sports. And it is that equity, or more accurately, the legally mandated attempt to balance, or equalize, athletic scholarships that has led to reaching that tenuous balance, often at the expense of men's athletic endeavors.

I have no problem with most of Title IX. I'm not one of those guys who says, "Hey, we oughta have a law for that. Hey, there's something, let's make a law," but I also hope to have the sensibility that sometimes, if changes aren't made on the side of fairness, somebody has to step in and rectify the circumstance.

The earlier stages of Title IX provided a nice guideline in opening the door for women's endeavors. Would they have been opened anyway as our society made adjustments toward diversity? To some degree probably, but I don't think gender equity incorporation has hurt the process in that regard.

Certainly, Arizona is among the nation's forerunners in this arena. While not technically compliant, it has done a strong job of promoting women's athletics, and a quick look up and down the sports roster at the UA will indicate the benefits of that effort. The softball team is at the top of its game. Arizona women routinely turn in stellar efforts on the track, make a splash in the pool, serve the university in a positive light in golf, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball.

Arizona has embraced Title IX, and the results athletically, for the women, have been nothing short of stellar. For the men, it's been a somewhat different game. This, of course, is a touchy area, because when the group who for years has been promoted as the Alpha then has its power removed under the concept of equality, it can often come off as WASP whining. That said, there's no question men have been affected by gender equity, and not always in a positive light.

At Arizona, three sports fell by the wayside in the early 80s as a result of the legislation. Today, men's volleyball, among the nation's best in club circles, cannot get university funding because of the school's overall scholarship imbalance.

And why is that? Why is nearly every men's sport adversely affected in an effort to balance the scholarship books? One simple thing. One simple word.

One simple cash cow.

Football.

And here is where Title IX falls apart, while at the same time biting the hand that financially makes its bid for equality possible. It has long been my belief that one can make great strides toward equality in athletics simply by removing the football scholarship count from the tally. By eliminating football, men's sports aren't instantly 85 scholarships in the hole, which in turn forces the elimination of other men's sports while adding women's teams in a basically futile effort to balance the numbers.

But without football, the money just isn't available for athletic departments to stay afloat, which means no gender equity, not even the effort, simply because it isn't financially feasible. To me, this has always been simple. Either eliminate football from the gender equity equation or add a women's football team, complete with 85-scholarship complement. That's fair. That's equal. It's also budget suicide, so it's horribly impractical.

But it, to me, is the best illustration of just how flawed the current system is, and how it looks at numbers over common sense.

As I noted a couple weeks ago, I have pretty much left Major League Baseball. Yet most of my childhood sports memories revolve around America's pastime. I was one of those kids who did listen to the radio, sound turned down low, under the covers, locked on every pitch hoping the St. Louis Cardinals would win. Baseball's second proudest franchise, the Cardinals didn't win that much when I was growing up. But I still listened.

When I went to school, I would bring a radio, and listen to afternoon broadcasts in class. To this day, instead of upgrading to a normal pair of headphones, I still have two or three of the old, white, single-ear listening pieces. They still work, in all their tinny glory. Now I use them for dictating interview tape. Then I listened to Jack Buck.

Buck, and his Hall of Fame comrades in the broadcast booth, exemplified the romance of the game, at a time when their radio play-by-play was the source of information for kids, young and old, to follow their team. Buck had the benefit of broadcasting on KMOX in St. Louis, the Midwest Clear channel AM monster, and as a result, much of the nation listened to him on a regular basis.

I didn't have to worry about KMOX extending into the mountains of Wyoming. I lived in a suburb of St. Louis, and his voice came through my earpiece just fine. Probably more tinny than he might like, but it came through just fine nonetheless.

Men like Buck are what make radio the romantic medium it is, or was. He was one of a handful of legends-Scully, Caray, Allen, Harwell, King, Johnny Most and Chick Hearn in the NBA-who knew the value of painting the proverbial picture for the listener.

I was once told a story about Buck's photographic memory. How he'd walk into the broadcast booth 10 minutes before going on the air, give the roster a brief once-over and never refer to it again. I don't know if it's true or not, but it's a mythical symbol of his unique qualifications, a perfect addendum to the mythical, nostalgic aspects of the nation's most romantic, but today far-too-often tarnished game.

Like it or not, most of us go through life to work for the family, or to pay the bills. Buck was born to be a baseball broadcaster. I was privileged to listen to one of the best, in all his tinny glory.


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