A group of University of Hawaii athletes watched from the side as their school hosted the Western Athletic Conference track and field championships this week, wondering why they can’t be in the competition.
This can’t be what Patsy Takemoto Mink had in mind.
It’s always good to remember the congresswoman from Hawaii wasn’t primarily concerned with interscholastic sports when she crafted legislation regarding gender equity in education. But there it is, a mostly positive byproduct.
The way this affects our sports world today is that girls and women have a lot more chances to compete in athletics than they did prior to the law commonly known as Title IX. And just about all of us agree that this is largely positive.
But there’s a sad and ironic side effect that some grumble about, mostly under our breath for fear of being labeled unsupportive of female sports. It’s a politically incorrect stance, because despite the law, women and girls are sometimes still afforded second-class status despite Title IX.
It’s also undeniable that in many cases compliance with the law combined with budget limits leads to cutbacks to existing men’s programs like baseball, wrestling and track and field — sometimes to the point of dropping these sports to club status or eliminating them.
UH men’s track and field was axed as an intercollegiate sport in the mid-’70s. The way things are now there’s no way it can return. Even Herman Frazier, an Olympic sprinter, realized that when he was athletic director; he wanted a men’s track revival, but realized it impossible to do and still be in compliance with Title IX.
The idea is equal opportunity regardless of gender. But Title IX has been abused in some corners by creative (spelled unethical) administrators and coaches. Since walk-ons count as "opportunities," their work-arounds include putting students who don’t even know they’re on a team on women’s sports rosters, thus allowing for more male athletes on the other side of the ledger. We’ve even heard of women’s rosters including team managers, and men who scrimmage against them in practice to pump up the equity numbers.
The University of Delaware was in compliance with Title IX when — in anticipation of potential future non-compliance — it downgraded its men’s track and field team to club status. Team members filed a federal civil rights discrimination complaint, and the matter is under mediation.
"How did we ever get to a place where a program that is supposed to be about creating opportunities for women is now being used in a way to create no opportunities for women and to cut men?" said former Delaware track captain Tom Rogers, in a New York Times article.
Other factors complicate the issue further.
Football is allotted 85 scholarships. I’ve always felt that’s too many, that some should be spread around to other sports, men’s and women’s. Those who disagree say football brings in the revenue that pays for most of the other sports. That still doesn’t explain why a third-string football player should get a full ride when an all-conference baseball or volleyball player scrapes by with a partial.
There’s another wild card when you talk about football in relation to men’s track. While, indirectly at least, football and Title IX are reasons there is no track at many schools, football could actually benefit by its existence.
"It would be a big bonus for (UH football coach) Greg McMackin," said Rick Nakashima, who was a UH men’s assistant track coach, and whose daughter, Tia, is a sprinter on the UH women’s team.
It’s hard to say how much it would help football recruiting since fewer two-sport college athletes thrive these days. But when blue-chip local football recruits who are also track stars choose mainland colleges where they can also compete in singlets, they often cite that as a reason.
"Here’s our 4-by-1 (relay) right here," said Allan Sampson, who ran a 49-second 400 meters in high school.
Sampson, John Hardy-Tuliau, Tank Hopkins and Joe Avery were some of the guys watching from the side. "What are they going to do if we all line up in Hawaii stuff … and win?" Hardy-Tuliau said.
They’re UH football players, and they’ll have their chance to shine again in the fall, on the biggest stage in the state.
Still, there are five men’s WAC track and field teams here this week, competing for the league title. It’s a shame that one of them doesn’t represent the host school. It’s due to legal and economic realities, but it’s still a shame.