UC-Berkeley was forced to make some tough decisions this week, culminating in the Tuesday announcement that it was eliminating five sports programs.  Men’s baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse were eliminated and men’s rugby was downgraded to “varsity club” status.

Cal, like universities across the country, has been cutting its budget across the board.  Tuition is up, faculty and staff have been furloughed, and the decision was made to look at the athletic programs.  As of last week, Cal had 27 sports teams, more than any other school in the PAC-10 except Stanford.  Unfortunately, Cal’s athletic department was operating at a $12 million and growing annual loss.

Four of the cuts were designed to slash the athletic department’s operating deficit to a more manageable $5 million in the red.  The elimination of baseball has caused a particular amount of publicity as it has more than a century of history including winning the first college world series in 1947.  However, one of the most controversial cuts is the men’s rugby program, which operated at close to financial self-sufficiency.

Rugby was eliminated primarily to help bring Cal back in line with Title IX requirements that universities provide equal opportunities to men and women.  Cal has slightly more female than male students, yet currently has about 150 more male than female student athletes.  Elimination of the 61 member all male rugby team has provided a quick fix to bring Cal back into Title IX compliance.

This has brought out a number of voices arguing that it is gender discrimination to eliminate an otherwise self-sufficient program largely to avoid having too many more male than female athletes.  Many similar arguments were raised last year when Quinnipiac University tried to eliminate women’s volleyball by claiming that competitive cheerleading is a varsity sport (an argument that was rejected, as previously reported by this blog).

Should colleges be required to have the same percentage of male and female student athletes as they have students on campus as Title IX has been interpreted to require?

Why shouldn’t lower interest in and lower profitability of women’s sports programs justify having fewer female than male athletes?  Why should able and profitable male athletes be penalized just because women’s athletics cannot make money?  Men’s athletics are just more interesting, so they should get more support.  Right?

The problem with that theory is that the idea that men’s sports generate more interest and revenue than women’s sports is a myth.  Ignoring the obvious arguments that men’s sports have had a substantially longer amount of time to embed themselves in the popular culture and that they get the lion’s share of advertising, it is just not true that sports programs are about the money.

College athletic departments run in the red in all but a handful of universities across this country.  Even more notable is that that cannot just be blamed on minor sports costing money as only about half of Division IA schools make money on football and men’s basketball, and few schools make money on any other sports.  The idea that schools should be looking purely at revenue generation when deciding what programs to cut is simply not true unless the discussion is about eliminating athletics altogether at many schools and retaining only football and men’s basketball at the rest.

With that in mind, the Title IX argument comes back to, why should women have any less opportunity to play college sports than men?  The fact that schools like Quinnipiac and Cal have a disproportionate amount of male athletes across many different sports programs none of which make money is clear evidence that Title IX still has a role to play in ensuring equal opportunity.

It plays well with popular rhetoric to argue that cuts such as the Cal rugby team amount to reverse discrimination forced by onerous civil rights legislation, but is that really what happened?  Cal was forced to cut athletics due to budgetary constraints, Title IX simply forced them to spread those cuts evenly across men’s and women’s programs.  At first glance, it looks like more men’s than women’s programs were cut in this most recent round, but that is only because there were already a disproportionate amount of male athletes at Cal before the cuts.  Cal had the option to add female athletes or to cut male athletes, unfortunately they chose the latter.

We as a nation expect equal opportunities for men and women.  It is unfortunate that cuts have to be made, but when they are made it is only fair that they be distributed evenly.  Next time a university cuts a popular athletic program, the correct answer is not to look at the women’s programs that did not get cut and whine about Title IX forcing equal opportunity.  The better question is which other men’s programs could have been cut to balance the budget and keep the correct distribution of male and female athletes?

Cal had 27 athletic programs last week.  I doubt those consisted of football, men’s basketball, rugby, and 24 women’s programs.  There were other men’s programs that could have been cut, but were not.  It is convenient to blame Title IX, but dishonest as long as there are other programs that could be cut that are still providing more opportunity to men than women.