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Teams Face Funding Cutbacks

By Dave Bailey

The Athletics Department eliminated all junior varsity sports teams this academic year in an attempt to keep expenditures under budget while complying with NCAA Title IX gender equity regulations, according to Director of Athletics Richard A. Hill.

In addition, caps have recently been placed on how many athletes can compete for each varsity team.

“This is a very sensitive issue that goes right to the top of MIT. The bottom line is that varsity athletics are not a high enough priority to receive the proper funding to support its 41 varsity sports. Apparently the choice is to reduce sports and spend the budget on those teams or keep what you’ve had and do the best you can with inadequate funding,” said Men’s Soccer Coach Walter Alessi who had to cut the men’s soccer sub-varsity program this year.

“I was surprised, upset and disappointed. I had informed all incoming soccer freshmen that a sub-varsity program would be available to them if they did not make varsity.”

When athletes showed up for practice in late August, Alessi said, he had to inform them there was no program for those who did not make the varsity team.

Athletics director blames Title IX

While many attribute the cuts solely to budgetary constraints -- the Athletic Department budget has flatlined since 1987 -- Hill also attributed the cuts to MIT”s JV programs attempts to comply with Title IX.

“Lots of costs are associated with squad size and travel size, including the cost of purchasing uniforms, washing grays, and staffing sports medicine,” Hill said. “However, constraints with numbers are an effort to respond to both financial and gender equity issues.”

Title IX, signed into law in 1972, is intended to prohibit institutions that receive federal funding from practicing gender discrimination in educational programs or activities.

Since few JV women’s teams at MIT existed prior to the cuts, an overwhelming majority of the JV programs that were cut were from men’s teams. According to Hill, the restrictions on team sizes cut back on men’s teams more than women’s teams.

For college sports programs there is a tripartite test to judge Title IX compliance -- programs must comply with one of the tests.

An institution may provide “substantial proportionality” by creating opportunities for women to participate that are proportional to their enrollment. Programs which have a “history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex” are also in compliance according to “Title IX:25 years of progress,” a joint report by the U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights.

Finally, Title IX “is satisfied when an institution is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports,” according to the report.

MIT is acting in compliance with Part I of the test.

Hill said that according to Athletic Department statistics the population of athletes on varsity teams after newly placed restrictions is 58.9 percent male and 41.1 and percent female. The population of athletes on varsity travel squads is 58.4 percent male and 41.6 percent female. MIT’s 1998 undergraduate population was 59.4 percent male and 40.6 percent female.

In response to a poster campiagn alleging that the MIT Athletic Department was failing in its own stated mission, Hill said, “Reduction in varsity team size does not mean a shift in philosophy and is in no way a lack of effort to fulfill [the Athletic Department’s] mission.”

“We as a department acted in an effort to make sure expenditure in varsity doesn’t cut into club sports, Physical Education, and other components of athletics at MIT,” Assistant Athletic Director John Benedick said.

“Numbers were determined by considering the number of varsity athletes needed to compete in a game and to run a practice,” Benedick said.

Some teams were affected more than others by new restrictions, due simply to preexisting team size relative to the cap imposed by the department. According to Benedick, the relative per capita cost for athletes on different teams was not considered.

Athletes displeased with changes

Cross Country runner Chris S. McGuire ’00 said that the changes forced the team to reduce their numbers from 24 to 12 runners. McGuire said that the change had effected the team negatively -- “morale sucks.”

Team mate Edward A. Keehr ’01 said that the cuts “hurt even more because we are one of the most successful teams” at MIT. The team is ranked 15th nationally he said.

Fencing captain Dianne K. Allen ’01 said that the fencing team was required to reduce their numbers below 40 and to eliminate junior varsity teams.

Allen said that as a result of a requirement that the team only transport 24 members to an away meet, the team can only field one alternate member per squad. “Very few freshmen are going to get experience” as a result of the changes, she said. In addition the team “doesn’t have criteria for cutting members.”

She placed responsibility for the problem on the MIT administration which “hasn’t paid enough attention to the Athletic Department.”

None of the athletes contacted had been told that the changes were in part the result of Title IX regulations.

Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this article.