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Jennifer Azzi On Title IX: "Why wouldn't you want equality?"

University of San Francisco women's basketball head coach Jennifer Azzi (left) has been a WNBA ambassador and advocate for women's fitness since retiring from playing professionally.
University of San Francisco women's basketball head coach Jennifer Azzi (left) has been a WNBA ambassador and advocate for women's fitness since retiring from playing professionally.

First, for some personal perspective on what's going on at the University of California - Berkeley: the athletics department isn't the only target for cuts.

Cuts will happen system-wide.

They're downsizing - or "re-designing" - departments across the UC system all the way from minor administrative units on campuses to people working at the highest levels of the system. Those of us with family members working within the system know that this turmoil has been going on for years. It has created an extremely stressful and almost toxic work environment for those who have been informed of forthcoming layoffs in November, which is of course right before the holidays. Employees are justifiably frustrated with management, but what can anybody really be expected to do in this situation? There is not a person in the world with "experience" rectifying a state- and system-wide economic crisis of this magnitude.

The situation in its entirety is a sad one because this higher education system - both the UC and California State System - has been among the class of the nation for so long. And growing up in Berkeley, sports have been a part of that.

Even with all the San Francisco 49ers success in the 80's - something that freshmen heading to Cal sadly have no recollection of - The Big Game is still among the biggest annual sporting events I remember. My parents are not Cal alums, but everyone from classmates to teachers to grocery store clerks would talk about it and everyone picked a side (to clarify, I only recall having one teacher that went to Stanford or at least was willing to say so publicly). If you remember when Jason Kidd was in high school, he was a superstar - the myths about him existed among those of us that were toiling on prep school junior varsity programs even before he got to Cal. Once he made the decision to go to Cal and he eventually helped Cal beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, his legend only grew and with it the reputation of the program.

Cal sports matter, not only for "school spirit" and alumni donations, but also to the Bay Area sports community as a whole.

Nevertheless, while the sports community's attention will obviously be on the unfortunate proposal (not a recommendation) to cut 5-7 sports teams, even in writing this I have to confess that I'm "distracted" so to speak by the consequences of these system-wide cuts on the many families who will lose an income or be given the choice between severance pay or pay-cuts with workload increases. That's the emotional response that I had when I read this excerpt about the issue from Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle:

UC Berkeley's sports dilemma
Campus higher-ups may make a decision within the next two weeks on cutting teams. If it happens, it will be an emotional, complicated but necessary calculation. Sports knit the campus together. Headlines and broadcasts give Cal visibility. Check-writing alums start out donating to athletics, but later contribute bigger sums to academic causes and building projects. These benefits can't be ignored.

Trying to separate those emotions from women's basketball fandom, if they do decide to go the route of cutting sports, Title IX will end up being a subject of discussion: men's sports will be likely targets.

The College Sports Council offered a look at the men's gymnastics team, a successful team that has placed in the top five in the nation over the last three years. If Cal were to cut that program it would decimate men's gymnastics on the West Coast.

Saving Sports: Faculty Committee at UC Berkeley Recommends Cutting 5-7 Sports
The story is also of great interest to the sport of men's gymnastics. The sport is down to only 17 teams nationwide. If UC Berkeley were to cut men's gymnastics, it would isolate Stanford University as the only NCAA men's gymnastics program on the entire West Coast. Without the program at Berkeley, Stanford's closest geographical rival in the sport would be the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs over 1,000 miles away.

In yesterday's Chronicle, John Crumpacker took a look at Cal's storied men's rugby team, which could unfortunately be a strong candidate for being one of the 5-7 varsity sports cut (or in this case, reduced to club status).

Cal rugby hopes to survive budget scrum

Football, men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball are required for membership in the Pac-10 Conference.

Working against rugby in the current climate of uncertainty at Cal is the fact it, along with men's crew, is not an NCAA men's sport (nor is women's rugby, although women's crew is).

Also, with a roster of 61 men, rugby is seen as vulnerable relative to Title IX federal gender-equity requirements.

Cal has about 150 more male athletes than females, with triple-figure football skewing the numbers, as it does at other schools.

Even if this team's success -- on the field or in the classroom -- is taken into account, rugby seems to be a candidate for reductions.

But as Crumpacker highlights, Title IX will have an impact on this decision. The Title IX blog has already described that.

Title IX Blog: Is Cal cutting?
I don't know if Cal is adhering to prong two or three at this point, but when/if they cut sports, proportionality will be their only option.

Here is the way things break down right now (the EADA data is from the 2008-09 academic year): women comprise 53 percent of the undergraduate study body; they receive 385 of the 948 total opportunities in athletics. That is just under 41 percent. I don't envy Cal administrators the task in front of them.

This can be read and framed two ways depending on your perspective:

1. Cal needs to cut men's programs to meet Title IX requirements.

2. Cal needs to make opportunities for women proportional to their population in order to meet Title IX requirements.

Both are true - with one will come the other. However, the reason the framing matters is because at stake with Title IX is not an attack on men, but equity for women that has been denied for until Title IX was passed. As University of San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi described when I spoke with her about the value of the WNBA last week, part of it is providing girls with the opportunities to aspire for things that boys have always had.

The implicit assumption with the first framing is that the opportunity for women to play sports is less important than the same opportunity for men. Some will say fan interest in women's sports is low, but that's as much a consequence of women's sports not even being guaranteed until 1972 as anything else. Others will resort to cost/benefit analysis relative to fan interest, but that point ultimately doesn't hold much weight because usually the only programs that make money are football and men's basketball. Last year, two Pac-10 men's basketball programs weren't profitable.

It's a matter I spoke with Azzi about as we discussed the value of the WNBA.

"What programs really make any money so why wouldn't it be equal?" said Jennifer Azzi when asked about the value of Title IX in providing more opportunities for women. "There's no reason that you shouldn't fund both equally."

So if the combination of the size of football teams and the fact that they make money poses a challenge, the last point made by Crumpacker above will prove to be as difficult for Cal as it is with other schools with regard to Title IX.

"It always amazes me when I get asked about Title IX in the sense that, 'Is it an issue? Is it taking away from men's sports?' because in no way is it," said Azzi. "The classic example is one men's program is saying they have fewer scholarships because of the women's side. That's not true: the football team is taking up the majority of the scholarships. It's divided however the school sees fit to divide it up."

There is of course a chance that Cal will decide not to cut sports at all. But if they do, you have to hope that people don't frame the matter as victimizing men but helping women.

"But I find it interesting that they want to look at the women's side but really it's how you divide up the men's scholarships and why wouldn't you want equality?" said Azzi. "And I guarantee that anyone who is questioning Title IX, as soon as they have a daughter, they stop questioning it."

So with that in mind, the most accurate and complete way to frame this matter:

In order to ensure women have proportional opportunities to play sports, men's sports will suffer reductions.

As once written by Danielle Allen in her book Talking To Stangers, there will be winners and losers in a democracy. The goal is to balance the ledger over time such that the same people aren't perpetual losers. Historically, women haven't even been allowed to participate and Title IX is an attempt to balance that ledger.

It's just unfortunate that in this situation there will be a lot of losers, on and off the field.

Related Links:

Azzi, Robinson Discuss The Value Of The WNBA Beyond Basketball

Women's basketball expenses/revenues for potential Pac-10/Big 12 merged superconference

Faculty Committee at UC Berkeley Recommends Cutting 5-7 Sports