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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Island Voices
Mink's real impact on sports

Lauren Kelly is an associate
professor of business at Hawai'i
Pacific University.

The passing of Congresswoman Patsy Mink has brought well-deserved recognition for her role in increasing academic and athletic opportunities for women. Her vigorous support of Title IX resulted in passage of legislation that prohibits discrimination in education based on gender.

The most widely discussed consequences of this legislation have occurred in collegiate athletics. Women now have access to facilities, coaches, scholarships and participation opportunities approaching those of men. With increased athletic opportunities, women benefit from expanded access to college and learn teamwork, discipline and accomplishment. These are benefits long enjoyed by male student-athletes.

Congress recently recognized Mrs. Mink's contributions by renaming Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Although the Mink Act has been credited with benefiting women, it has also been blamed for decimating some men's Olympic sports, such as tennis, swimming, gymnastics and wrestling. Most agree the economics of college athletics has become untenable, especially among the large football schools that comprise Division 1A. Sadly, the Mink Act is often cited for these difficulties and the decision by some athletics directors to eliminate men's teams.

In reality, the economic challenges to collegiate athletics come from many fronts: ever-increasing salaries for head coaches, competition to have the best facilities, huge travel budgets and dramatic increases in tuition, room and board. When faced with the need to cut back, athletics directors often choose to eliminate men's sports to maintain gender equity. But the blame is more properly placed on the explosive costs to remain competitive in football and men's basketball, rather than the need to expand opportunities for women.

In a recent column in The Honolulu Advertiser, Ferd Lewis suggests that Title IX has resulted in parity among football teams in collegiate athletics. He reasons that because Division 1A football teams are limited to 85 scholarships, athletes are forced to accept positions at less-reputed schools. This, supposedly, has spread the talent out more equally among the 115 Division 1A schools.

While the number of football student-athletes receiving athletically related financial aid is limited to 85, there are no restrictions on the size of the team. Although walk-ons do not receive scholarships, they do benefit from access to the coaches and trainers, and receive equipment, medical assistance and academic advising.

Without a doubt, the Mink Act has had a dramatic impact on collegiate athletics. Within Division 1A, the total number of playing opportunities for women increased from 17,483 in 1995-96 to 27,306 in 2000-01. Contrary to popular belief, playing opportunities for men increased over the same period: from 31,816 to 35,536.

While participation opportunities have expanded, resource allocation to women's athletics has lagged far behind. Indeed, many schools spend more on their football team than on all women's teams combined.

It's time to honor Mrs. Mink's legacy by debunking the myths surrounding the Mink Act. It's time to stop blaming gender equity for the financial difficulties many collegiate athletics departments face.

Critics of the legislation claim women's athletics doesn't bring revenue to the university and, therefore, should not receive financial support.

The Mink Act isn't about generating money for the athletics department. It's about providing educational and athletic opportunities to all students, regardless of gender. It's about treating all members of society equally. Let's honor Mrs. Mink and stop using women's athletics as a scapegoat for the problems in collegiate athletics.