Friday, January 06, 2006

Reality 1, Title IX 0

"Hockey is Hockey."

Objections to womens' sports? I have none. Objections to scads of people making a huge fuss over superior fundamentals in the women's game? Only a few, the main one being that it ain't necessarily so. Case in point - two separate Rutgers women's centers playing some pickup in the gym while I was a student. I am no ballplayer myself, but was able to outplay the first despite giving up four inches. She couldn't jump, had no handle, and was not quick enough to guard me. (If you're not quick enough to stop a goalie, you have a concern.) Then, the next semester her replacement spent an enjoyable twelve minutes kicking the crap out of me in the paint - she could move laterally, shoot in close with either hand, and knew how to box out on rebounds. Moral - it depends on the player.

Objections to men's programs dismantled en masse because of Title IX compliance? Oh, that's bigger. Maybe - just possibly maybe - the students themselves should determine, by actually going out for teams, which programs ought to exist on the intercollegiate level? Maybe it shouldn't have anything to do with threats of de-funding from the government?

Now, of course that's not perfect either. You'll notice that women's programs, even at successful schools, tend to be loss leaders. (w/t to Willisms) But part of that is that many of these schools have decided to fly women's sports under the same banner as men's - athletic competitions of skill at the highest level. Sell tickets, advertising, and apparel. Problem is, that's not the truth, as the hockey story demonstrates.

How close would a high school hockey team keep things against a D-I program like North Dakota or Boston University? Maybe 12 goals? An all-star collegiate team, such as used to play in the Olympics? Possibly 18 or 20. How would they fare against pros? The worst team in the league as of this sentence is the St. Louis Blues, 10-29. In other words, as sad as they've been, they've beaten ten NHL teams this year. (Why do you think the Miracle on Ice was miraculous? They beat a team that had crushed them by seven goals two weeks prior, a team that had shut out an NHL All-Star team, with players who had nearly beaten Canadian pros in the 1972 Challenge Cup. {The Canadians had to win the final three games to pull out the series.})

Yeah, but what about, say, Annika Sorenstam? A tremendous talent. The gap between her and the rest of the LPGA tour only underscores how exceptional she is to play men's events - and she herself wanted to do it to test her skills. That in itself is admission enough.

My cousin Lily plays soccer and is very good. Her 12-under team won a Thanksgiving tournament and enjoyed themselves without chasing the twin gods of Mammon and Celebrity. Everyone had a blast. (The ref for their quarterfinal game looked like Hulk Hogan, right down to the bandana, which helped.) I wouldn't have missed it, just like I've enjoyed all the scrub tournaments I've played in myself. But children's soccer shouldn't be a TV event, any more than ESPN should cover my beer league games. Objectively, we're just not that good. That's probably the solution to Title IX, as unpopular as it sounds - simply admit that certain sports (mens and womens - think wrestling, fencing) exist primarily for the athletes and not the schools' bottom lines, and act accordingly. Quit chasing the pot of gold. More people would get to play and everyone would be happier.

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