This afternoon, I was watching the Virginia vs. Johns Hopkins lacrosse match on ESPN2. Lacrosse has been blowing up in terms of participation over the past decade—see articles HERE, HERE, and HERE for a sense of the rapid expansion of lacrosse at all levels of play. Matches are often covered on ESPNU and ESPN2, and are fun to watch. The action is fast-paced, there is plenty of scoring, and there is a strong element of athleticism to the game, which makes it entertaining even for those of us who've never played the game.
Midway through the second half, the color commentator* was talking about a player who had grown up outside the traditional lacrosse hotbeds in the Northeastern part of the country. Using my DVR to try to create an accurate transcript, here's the commentary:
[This player is] Another example of how lacrosse continues to grow in non-hotbed areas. Places like Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, Seattle, Washington. There are more great players coming out of those areas playing at all sorts of different schools. And that’s why parity now exists in Division I college lacrosse. There’s only 60 schools, there’s only so many places you can go. Gender equity slowing the growth of Division I men’s lacrosse.Our commentator starts by making an interesting point about the growth of lacrosse across the entire country, emphasizing how lacrosse is now a national sport, and how that development of the sport nationally has made the sport as a whole more competitive. He has me hooked.
Then, our commentator decides to be an idiot, blaming parity in college lacrosse on "gender equity". Apparently, our commentator feels that more men's lacrosse teams would be fielded by Division I colleges if "gender equity" weren't required. He doesn't explain his position further, so the purported cause-effect relationship between "gender equity" and the lack of men's lacrosse teams can only be surmised to be a reference to Title IX requirements for gender equity in athletic opportunities.
The problem for our commentator's thesis is that Title IX does not prohibit any school from fielding a men's lacrosse team. All that Title IX requires is equitable treatment of women in providing athletic opportunities. A school can comply with Title IX in one of three ways:
- Have a female participation rate for athletics roughly equivalent to the percentage of women in the student body;
- Demonstrate a steady increase in athletic opportunites for women; or,
- Demonstrate that it is meeting the athletic interests and needs of its female students.
Given that somewhat more men than women play Division I lacrosse (there are more women's teams because women tend to have smaller squads), it appears complaints about a lack of opportunity for male lacrosse players are misplaced. In any event, Title IX does not prevent schools from fielding men's lacrosse teams (or other men's athetic teams) if they wish to do so. Title IX only requires schools to provide more opportunities for female athletes, which often leads to budgetary concerns—a school can either find new funds to finance women's athletic teams, or it can reallocate part of its sports budget away from men's sports programs. Thus, schools without a men's lacrosse team have made a budgetary decision not to support a men's lacrosse program, pure and simple. Blaming "gender equity" or Title IX is simply wrong, and does a great disservice to the public, fueling common resentments against Title IX and women's athletics programs.
To our idiot announcer: Let's set aside your inexplicable ignorance about an important federal sports law, which every announcer at a network like ESPN should be able to discuss intelligibly. As a practical matter, you aren't going to help men's lacrosse by whining about "gender equity". Helping keep lacrosse as a whole popular is the best way to increase opportunities for all lacrosse players, as increased popularity will increase the funds that can be generated by the sport in terms of tickets, TV rights, team sponsors, memorabilia/apparel sales, etc. More money will lead to more teams. No need to tear the women down to buld up the men.
* I could not locate the name of the color commentator through a search of ESPN.com. If I can find the individual's name, I will update the post.