Is Title IX hurting women's wrestling?

Some blame the federal sex-equality law for the sport's invisibility at larger universities.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
May 28, 2008 2:40PM (UTC)
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Today, the New York Times takes a look at women's wrestling and comes up with a somewhat counterintuitive theory about the effect of Title IX, the federal sex-equality law, on the sport. On the one hand, the Times reports that the explosion at small colleges of rising women's sports like wrestling has "little to do with ... Title IX and everything to do with their bottom line." By offering women's wrestling, smaller schools can easily lure first-year students away from larger universities that have ignored the rising popularity of the sport. Cisco Cole, the women's wrestling coach at Jamestown College, told the Times, "When we can get so many girls to come here for a first-year program, that's 20 to 25 extra students who normally wouldn't have looked at Jamestown College."

On the other hand, the Times reports that women's wrestling is largely invisible at larger schools because Title IX has administrators in a headlock. As colleges try to strike a proportional balance in female athletic participation, in accordance with Title IX, some say schools are scrapping small-draw sports like women's wrestling in favor of hugely popular sports like rowing. But as women's wrestling gains cred, it's likely to become more appealing to larger universities interested in pulling women into athletic programs. One hurdle to broader recognition is getting the sport officially listed as one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's "emerging sports." (Much to my delight, team handball is included in the list. If only I'd continued honing my impressive grade school handball skillz!)


To review: Not only has Title IX done nothing to facilitate the emergence of women's wrestling at small schools (because administrators are most concerned with meeting their bottom line), but it has also excluded the sport from large universities (because administrators are most concerned with meeting Title IX's bottom line). At least, that's according to the law's critics. Others suspect it isn't all that simple and that college administrators, coaches and the NCAA also play a critical role. "In general, there's this resistance to the personification of women as aggressive," said Michael Burch, an assistant men's wrestling coach at Brown. He added that the acceptance of women's wrestling is "another step in the evolution of egalitarian thinking."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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