Thursday, April 19, 2012

Men's Gymnastics Still Victim of Title IX Gender Quotas

The decades-long demise of collegiate men's gymnastics gets a spotlight in The Norman Transcript, a newspaper in Oklahoma.

In "It's fiscal, not physical," reporter Michael Kinney lays out the stats (only 17 men's gymnastics teams exist in all 3 NCAA divisions) and describes the fundraising complexities and hardships that male gymnasts face when trying to resuscitate or keep their teams alive. But he brushes over the undeniable culprit for the wipe out of men's gymnastics — Title IX — and fails to explain why the NCAA numbers are even worse than they appear.

Although Kinney writes, "Some blame Title IX as a main reason for the losses," he then falls back on blaming football and basketball, and then ultimately counters, "In the end, [it] could just be a matter of money." Instead, he should have focused on the gender quota system created and bolstered by the Title IX enforcement regime since that's what's really killing of men's gymnastics. As schools seek to even out the number of male and female athletes, men's teams are cut; gymnastics is an extremely popular target.

Although the NCAA participation data demonstrates the near-extinction of men's gymnastics, it does not acknowledge that more schools join the NCAA status each year. That means that the situation at hand is even more grim: existing NCAA schools are cutting the sport and new additions to the NCAA are not even adding it. To put this into perspective, there were 1,367 male gymnasts in 1981-1982, yet in 2010-2011, there were 318 of them with way many more schools part of the NCAA.

As gender quotas continue to get rid of men's gymnastics at the varsity level or bump it down to club, the trickle down effect at the high school level and earlier gets even more apparent. Gymnastics hopefuls lose interest because the lack of opportunities and/or scholarships at colleges and universities makes it that much harder to realistically continue their practice. What's the point of even starting to learn gymnastics or make sacrifices while in high school if they will have no teammates, no practice space and no monetary support once they graduate?

Equally as troubling is that the U.S. men's gymnastics Olympics program tremendously suffers. If there aren't as many people coming up through the ranks, the pool of available talent dwindles. And while the men who comprise the U.S. men's team are enormously skilled and accomplished, it would be better if even more people could compete to get spots. After all, more expansive competition brings greater innovation and the commitment among many to be the best.

As The Norman Transcript article makes apparent, men's gymnastics team will have to go the fundraising route or face the consequences. But this is not sustainable nor fair, and it will never address the real source of this problem: Title IX. Reform is the real solution here, figuring out new ways to assess equality of opportunity, not mandating equality of outcome and ensuring that those who want to play sports can.

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