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By Leo Kocher, College Sports Council
Spring is here. For college sports teams it is an uneasy time when schools announce the termination of programs. Unfortunately for wrestling fans, the spring slaughter has begun.
On March 12, the word came down a few hours after the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks took their third straight NCAA team wrestling championship that their program was being terminated. The University of North Carolina Greensboro Wrestling Team (2010 Southern Conference team champions and 2011 SoCon runner-up) was informed shortly before sending its athletes to the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament that this season would be their last.
For supporters of threatened programs, it can be very frustrating when they try to get to the bottom line in their search for the reason why their team was targeted for elimination. But nearly 100 percent of the time if you “follow the numbers” you will find the common denominator in the equation that adds up to dropped men’s teams.
People often reach for other reasons for losing programs. The two most common scapegoats are to either blame the coach’s organizational and relationship-building skills or to blame football.
At UNO, you certainly can’t blame the coach. UNO head wrestling coach Mike Denney — 32 years as a head coach — was featured this year in one of the most glowing tributes to a coach ever printed in this magazine. He is a model coach when it comes to organization, alumni relations, community outreach, fundraising, and on and on. Additionally he has won six NCAA Division II team championships in the last eight years.
It is going to be difficult to blame football as well. UNO is dropping its football program and UNC Greensboro did not even have a football team. The rationale presented by the UNO administrators — that the move to Division I and the Summit Conference necessitated dropping wrestling — does not wash. South Dakota State and North Dakota State are in the same Summit Conference and maintain their wrestling programs. UNO wrestling’s competitive and fund-raising successes by themselves are strong reasons to maintain the program. So if neither football nor the coach are to blame how did it happen? Just follow the numbers.
The U.S. Department of Education requires that all schools submit key information on their athletic departments so that the facts can be posted on the government website at: http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/.
This site provides crucial information to evaluate if a school is in compliance with Title IX’s gender quota.
Those looking up UNO on the U.S. Department of Education website will find the Mavericks have 241 male and 161 female varsity athletes for a 60-40 percentage split. They will also discover that the UNO student body is 48 percent male and 52 percent female.
Anyone with an understanding of the current Title IX interpretation knows that a school where 48 percent of the students are males and 60 percent of the athletes are males has a “proportionality” problem. This makes the school vulnerable to lawsuits, investigations by the Department of Education, and the very real threat of losing its federal funding. UNC Greensboro’s numbers were worse; males were only one third of the student body but there were 142 male athletes to 102 females.
If you check other colleges you will see that almost all of them are not proportional when it comes to the numbers of male and female varsity athletes. That is all that it takes when it comes to programs being in jeopardy.
The decision at UNO to drop football and a wrestling program clearly requires the approval of its Board of Regents. How did this Board get sold on closing down the school’s most successful team plus its football program?
While the Nebraska Board of Regents might know little about athletics, they do understand their obligation to protect their university. And if they are being told that not being proportional in the athletic program invites lawsuits, year-around investigations/oversight of their athletic programs by the Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights, and even the threat of losing federal funding — nothing could work better to push the Board into action. The board members are persuaded that male athletes must be cut and they understandably look to athletic and university administrators to decide which programs must go.
It might not be the initial reason for dropping a team, but Title IX provides the vital, even required, context to get a Board of Regents to go along with terminating successful programs and beloved coaches.
When it comes to athletic decisions, current Title IX regulations and the threat non-proportionality poses to these universities is a dominant consideration in the university board rooms, whether it is publicized or not. It has provided the main rationale for dropping the vast majority of wrestling programs that have been eliminated in the last 15 years. To deny this is the case is to deny reality.
Title IX must be reformed in a way that stops it from requiring quotas, as soon as possible. If UNO’s wrestling program can be cut, what program is safe?
(Leo Kocher is the University of Chicago wrestling coach and president of the College Sports Council.)