Women find opportunities in emerging sports

While men’s collegiate sports programs are being trimmed for budgetary reasons – such as tennis at Colorado – women’s sports are added as universities keep pace with Title IX compliance. Athletic directors are looking to fulfill complicated compliance formulas, involving everything from scholarships and “proportionality” mirroring the male-female student enrollment ratio, at a minimum of cost. All Division I schools must sponsor at least 16 sports and a minimum of six for men and women.

Colorado State University’s women’s water polo team competes in the all- California Western Water Polo Association instead of the Mountain West Conference, as it does in other sports. When the NCAA mandated Division I football schools offer 16 sports, Colorado State announced the addition of water polo in 2003 as the 16th sport—instead of soccer. CSU is the only MWC school not to offer soccer, and the sport is second only to basketball in girls participation in Colorado high schools.

CSU coach John Mattos told the Denver Post that adding water polo was much cheaper than women’s soccer. It cost CSU less than $100,000 as an initial investment while soccer would have been much higher, Mattos said. The team’s budget is now about $35,000 for travel, pool rental and equipment, exclusive of paid staff. Although a maximum of eight scholarships are permitted in water polo, CSU started with three and increases to five next season. Scholarships are split among several players, similar to what most schools do in track and softball.

CSU is far from alone in adding otherwise unusual sports in order to fulfill legal requirements. Sports that feature large rosters, such as rowing (an average of 60 participants), soccer (a 25-player average) or equestrian (45) became instant Title IX cures for some universities. Nebraska, which made the club sport of women’s bowling a varsity sport in 2003-4, has since won two NCAA titles.

“More and more schools need to find a way to comply with the law, whether it’s to demonstrate continuing expansion of a program or the proportionality of the institution,” Missouri State senior women’s administrator Darlene Bailey told the Denver Post. Bailey is also chair of the NCAA committee on Women in Athletics.

And, yes, she has heard the blame heaped on Title IX for cutbacks in men’s programs. “It’s a matter of institutional choice whether to cut any sport,” Bailey said. “If a cut is budget-based because of limited resources, the pie is only so big and the choice is how to cut the pie.”

Rather than eliminate programs, Bailey points to the rapid escalation of football and men’s basketball budgets and asks why schools don’t move some of that money over to save nonrevenue men’s sports programs.