Morning, all. Good holidays?
I spent a part of my break in Venice, California (when not writing about higher education, I am in fact The Dude). What hits you full in the face when in the US at this time of year is the ubiquity of college football. I could regale you with tales of US college athletics, but others do it far better than I could: I recommend Charles Clotfelter’s Big-time Sports at American Universities, or if you’re looking for something shorter, this NYT article from last week is not bad.
What’s amazing to me is not simply the size of the college sports enterprise, but also the degree of regulation that goes along with it. Much of this regulation is of course devoted to trying to keep college athletes from claiming any part of the income they are generating for schools and the NCAA through their athletic prowess (Taylor Branch’s classic 2011 article in the Atlantic is pretty good on this). The complexity of the rules designed to stop outsiders (agents, boosters, memorabilia collectors, anyone really) from providing them with “unearned remuneration” can seem quite hilarious to Canadians – our college football teams are completely unregulated in this regard, which is why Laval’s football team is essentially paid for by a furniture company magnate.
A fair bit of the rulebook comes in the name of gender equality. For decades now, a part of the Higher Education Act known as Title IX has required institutions to offer equitable opportunities to play sports and that they offer scholarship opportunities to men and women equal to their participation. That doesn’t mean equal participation and scholarships, exactly: Men are 57% of all registered NCAA athletes, and receive 54% of the $2.1 billion in athletic scholarships on offer (recall that men only make up 45% or so of undergraduates). The gap has been closed over the years (see this excellent piece from the Women’s Sports Foundation) largely by encouraging growth in women’s sports rather than, as sometimes claimed, reducing the spots available to men.
The question (for me at least) then becomes: how well is Canada faring on the same metrics?
In terms of athletic opportunities (i.e. spots on varsity teams), the total count is 11,601, up about 15% since 2001-2. Men represent 54% of all the athletes today, the same proportion as a decade earlier (despite men only representing about 44% of the undergraduate class).
Scholarships have grown much faster than athletic opportunities. In fact, athletic scholarships have probably grown faster than any other component of university spending in Canada over the past decade. In 2000-01, Canadian universities gave out $2.4 million in scholarships to 2060 students (avg = $1165 per scholarship), of which 65% went to men. In 2012-13, Canadian universities gave out $14.6 million in scholarships to 5070 students (avg = $2880 per scholarship) of which 57% goes to men.
There’s some good and some bad here. We’re making (slow) progress towards gender equality in sports, and the gender balance in athletes and scholarships in Canada is similar to that in the US. If you’re an optimist, you can point to the fact that we in Canada have achieved this without the need for government regulation; if you’re a pessimist, you can ask why we aren’t further ahead given that our athletics programs aren’t burdened with the Big-Time Football albatross.
But most importantly – why have our university athletic budgets gone up fivefold in real dollars over the past decade? Does this make any kind of sense? Who’s minding the store here, exactly?