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The Tyranny of Title IX

Greg Yatarola | Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On March 23, the University of Iowa regained its place in American collegiate wrestling. Behind Brent Metcalf, 2008 NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Wrestler, Iowa claimed its first team championship since 2000. Between 1975 and 2000, Iowa won an astounding 20 team titles, 15 of them under the leadership of coach Dan Gable, the legendary wrestler who won an Olympic gold medal while not surrendering a single point during the tournament, at a time when the sport was dominated by the Soviet bloc. Now the Hawkeyes reign again, led by coach Tom Brands, one of Gable’s former wrestlers.

Sadly, Notre Dame didn’t do so well – no ND wrestlers advanced to the finals. That’s because there are no ND wrestlers. ND wrestling was cut back in 1992, a casualty of the Education Amendment Act’s Title IX, which requires that no person shall, on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. As written, the law is quite unobjectionable. As implemented, though, it’s been destructive and stupid.

Judges, bureaucrats, and college administrators have interpreted the law to demand “statistical proportionality” – so if a school’s student body is 60% female, then 60% of its scholarship athletes must be too. Never mind that, from earliest childhood, boys are far more interested in athletic competition than girls are, or that everyone else is generally more interested in boys’ competition too.

The situation would be bad enough without football, which itself accounts for 85 scholarships. With that many scholarships on one side, it’s hard to balance the ledger, especially since athletic directors have sometimes been unable to add women’s teams because they can’t attract enough interested girls to fill them. So schools often cut men’s programs instead.

The case of football shows how ridiculous this balancing act is. Football programs, especially at places like ND, generate revenue and publicity for their schools. Moreover, football scholarships often go to recipients whose families might otherwise struggle to afford college. Can any of this be said of, oh, women’s golf? Doesn’t matter – to the NCAA, collectively afflicted with that mental disease known as political correctness, there’s no difference between giving a scholarship to someone like Chris Zorich to play a sport people actually pay money to watch, and who might suffer for years from injuries sustained in playing it hard, and giving one to a girl whose private high school had its own golf course. As for the justification I often heard bandied about in guys’ dorms, that female athletes serve the important role of “comfort women” for the football team: even if this were true, the football team would perform better without such “comfort”.

Obviously, I’m not entirely sold on athletic scholarships. For sports like football and basketball which earn money and press for the school, maybe, and even then I think the scholarships should be need-based. But if ND’s going to give out other scholarships, then it ought to have a wrestling team.

I don’t have space for the defense wrestling deserves, and I’m no worthy apologist. But I do believe wrestling, more than any other mainstream sport, develops those qualities that will help a boy someday become a good and noble man. Someone who doesn’t even have what it takes to step out on a wrestling mat without his teammates, in front of many eyes, knowing he might get seriously hurt – and even worse, terribly humiliated – how can he be expected to do the right thing in life? Wrestling’s hopelessly working-class, God bless it, and wrestlers are vastly over-represented in the armed forces. For me, it was well worth the injuries, eating disorders, and cauliflower ear (no those last two aren’t related!).

ND needs a wrestling team and it needs wrestlers. But I don’t expect ND to bring back wrestling because it’s right, and I certainly don’t expect ND to court the disapproval of the federal government – the Church, sure, but not the Holy Government. So here’s a solution. Make wrestling co-ed. Allow women to try out for the team. Of course, none will make it (those who would are encouraged to contact me re: breeding wrestlers), but it would be impossible to claim women were denied those scholarships on the basis of sex.

I hope readers won’t conclude I have some animus against women’s sports – I don’t. I enjoyed going to women’s soccer, volleyball, and basketball games as an undergrad, and since she was tiny I’ve tried to push my niece into soccer (she’s always preferred kittens and puppies). It’s a hallmark of political correctness, though, that it pits one group against another. There’s no inherent rivalry between wrestling and women’s tennis. In a perfect world, wrestlers would pay no attention to women’s tennis programs, like everyone else. But Title IX creates resentment where there was none before, just as “affirmative action” (what an exquisitely Orwellian term!) makes competitors out of minorities and, as Barack-our-hope-and-our-salvation would put it, a “typical white person” like me. Zero-sum class-warfare economics is another example.

The Title IX problem is just going to get worse, as schools’ student bodies become increasingly majority-female. More programs will be eliminated. Until ND cuts to the chase and re-names its teams the Peacing Multiculties, we’re still the Fighting Irish. Wrestling’s the only intercollegiate sport that even comes close to fighting. Let’s bring it back to Notre Dame.

Greg Yatarola is a 1999 alumnus. He’d like to congratulate Indiana University’s 125-pound-class national champion, whose arm was ripped out of socket in the quarterfinals but who finished the match and went on to win the semifinals and finals.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.