Bread and circuses . . . or else
I think it all started to go wrong for me over lunch at Crown Center.
There I was, eating my ritualistic chocolate yogurt with granola, when the T-Shirt first caught my eye. The shirt was displayed proudly, smack dab in the front of Crown Center's Women In Sports exhibit, presumably to get everyone psyched for the Women's Final Four. It read:
Yes, I'm a girl.
Yes, I'm an athlete.
Yes, I'll kick your butt.
Yes, I'll kick your butt! My gawd! You'd think there were enough deranged boys in this world to keep us occupied. Did we really want to urge our daughters--two of whom are my own--towards recreational butt-kicking? Apparently so.
For the record, the trend towards female butt-kicking kicked off quietly in 1972 when Congress passed a seemingly innocuous batch of education amendments. Although one of the amendments would emerge as the Magna Carta of women's sports, it was so slight and subtle at birth that it didn't even get a name. Congress simply called it "Title IX. "
Never an institution to be troubled by the mindless mischief of federal intervention, The Kansas City Star has praised Title IX as though it were The Emancipation Proclamation. "It righted a century of wrongs," wrote The Star's reporters during its hysterical build-up to the Women's Final Four. "It allowed intelligence to reign over traditions."
Never mind that in states like Iowa girls' basketball was the tradition or that women have been playing basketball in schools for more than a century,The Star reporters convinced themselves that Title IX had opened "doors that had previously been nailed shut."
Curiously, at the time of passage, no one anticipated that Title IX would rip the doors off anything, let alone college sports. And for good reason. Title IX wasn't about sports. I repeat--Title IX wasn't about sports. Incredibly, while this amendment was being debated, the subject of sports never even came up.
Nor, as some might think, did Title IX authorize bean-counting by sex. In fact, its sponsors thought they were authorizing just the opposite. "Gender quotas were exactly what this amendment intends to prohibit," said Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana. "The thrust of this amendment is to do away with every quota." The reversal here is mind-boggling. It's as if in the Emancipation Proclamation Abraham Lincoln promised the South that slavery would never die or if Thomas Jefferson dedicated the Declaration of Independence to George III and swore in it his undying fealty to the crown.
But America didn't have subversive bureaucrats back in Lincoln's days or activist judges. Honest Abe had to actually say what he meant--maybe that's how he got the nickname. No more. Today, the combination of regulation creep and judicial adventurism results in laws for which no fully informed adult would ever vote, Title IX prominent among them.
True story. A friend of mine talks to her seatmate, a high school senior, on a recent flight. The young lady tells my friend that she's flying from college to college, entertaining scholarship offers. For what is she being recruited, you ask. Science? No. Art? No. Biology? No. Theater? No. Music? No. The javelin? Of course! The federal government has decided that throwing the mother-loving javelin is more deserving of financial reward for a young woman than, say, writing the great American novel or curing cancer.
Nor do the Feds merely "suggest" priorities. Even a private college that doesn't meet the Title IX's ambiguous test for "proportionality" has hell to pay. Brown University found out the hard way. Hardly a right-wing redoubt, John-John's alma mater offered its women 15 fully-funded athletic teams, fan favorites like field hockey and women's lacrosse among them. This translated into 37% of the athletic opportunities for 48% of the student population.
When sued under Title IX, Brown boldly chose not to settle. "Brown Decision Puzzling," read the flagrantly editorializing headline of the USA Today. But Brown had surveyed its students and come to the startling conclusion that, lo and behold, boys and girls are different, that they have different tastes, different passions. 92% of the Brown students interested in dance, for instance, were women.
Too bad. These would-be danseueses had better learn to play softball. Although dead-set against quotas, the Feds decided that the "ideal" proportionality for women's sports would be, well, 48%. In an atmosphere where even USA Today was eager to throw the switch, Brown got fried.
I do not deny girl's basketball its virtue. Like any dad, I get more worked up at my daughter's grade school games than for the superbowl. At the college level, I can appreciate the girls' teamwork and endurance and ball-handling skills. But as to their play in the paint, it just ain't. Forget the T-Shirts--the Liberty High boys kick the Lady Vols' butts nine games out of ten. That Chamique Holdsclaw wears Michael Jordan's number only underscores the huge gap between them. And so I've got to wonder why of all those things women do absolutely well, we coerce them to do things in which their "excellence" will always be relative.
But hey, say the Title IX enforcers, if the boys can have big, dumb corrupt athletic programs that ran counter to the educational goals of their instiutions, why not the girls too? Hate to break it you, sports fans, but there is a difference. It's called money. The Tennessee women's B-Ball program, America's best, loses $500,000 a year. By contrast the KU boys turns a profit of nearly $5,000,000. Last year alone, in the ensemble, Division I women's basketball lost more than $100 million. In the zero-sum game of university funding, that's $100 million that might have gone for something useful or aesthetic or at least educational. But in the Bizarro world of Title IX, who's counting?
"We're Number 274!"
Despite the criticism the idea has since received, UMKC's decision to play Division I basketball had some merit. NBA-less cities of Kansas City's size-- Cincinnati, Memphis, and Louisville come to mind--have long had popular, money-making programs that bear the city's name. Why not Kansas City?
Well, in the old days, maybe the local boosters could have scared up a few bucks, recruited a few studs, finessed them a little "laundry" money, found a "job" for their parents, and let the good times roll. Crass perhaps, corrupt possibly, but at least potentially logical.
But it's not so simple anymore. In the NCAA/Title IX era, for no reason I can quite understand, this traditionless, commuter school has had to fund and field 13 additional teams of either gender, about which not even the kids' parents care, just so our dozen young men of indifferent academic skills could play big-time B-ball badly in front of crowds smaller than those at a typical zoning hearing for a coach making 4 times the salary of the average prof.
This explosion of useless athleticism at UMKC has meant more coaches, more scholarships, more travel, larger facilities, less education, and a ten fold increase in annual costs to $2.5 million, borne, when all is said and done, by Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.
And the payoff? It came at season's end when, in the power rankings, the UMKC Kangaroos found themselves a place of pride if not among the nation's top 10 basketball teams, at least among the top, oh, 275. Number 274 to be exact. True, there are only 310 teams that play Division I ball, but, hey, once again, who's counting?
Who's counting indeed?
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