Higher Education Strategy Associates

Equity in Athletics

Two weeks ago, the University of Alberta decided to axe its women’s field hockey team. Here’s why that was so… odd:

1) Money wasn’t the issue. The announcement describes the decision as “part of an ongoing review of budget priorities,” but until the moment it happened, no one seemed aware that any teams were under review. And team members say that funding was not even mentioned during the meeting in which players were informed of the decision.

2) It makes a mockery of Canada West Athletics. The word “league” comes from the latin “to bind” (as in, forming an alliance) and sports leagues need a minimum of such solidarity to survive. By unilaterally terminating the field hockey program, U of A hasn’t just damaged its own athletes’ careers, it’s harmed all the other CWUAA squads as well as it leaves just three teams in the league – below the minimum number mandated by the CIS. So much for solidarity.

3) The “Alberta model” is problematic. One of the reasons given for cutting the team was that it had too many non-Albertans. According to Athletics Director Ian Reade, this is a problem because it doesn’t fit with the “Alberta model” he has developed for the program, which apparently requires teams to be fed by a local grassroots development system, and which Edmonton presently lacks. Yet I can’t find any evidence that this “Alberta model” is actually university policy rather than just Reade’s own philosophy. And when he was named athletics director in 2010, his pitch for them model to the local media focused not on localism but on how it would make Alberta a leader in sports science.

Also: what university uses athletics as a way to limit recruitment?

4) The gender equality reasoning is wonky. The university argued that since the number of male and female teams is now equal they can’t possibly be accused of gender discrimination. O.K., but CIS statistics show that after this decision, just 44% of all U of A athletes will be female, and they’re already limited to just 35% of the scholarship dollars, both of which are below the national average. And all this at a school where females make up nearly 60% of undergraduates.

In the U.S., Title IX of the Higher Education Act requires institutions to provide female athletes with opportunities substantially proportionate to their share of enrolment, on pain of losing a portion of their federal funding. In Canada, only a half dozen schools – Brock, Carleton, Laurentian, Trent, UPEI and Victoria – would meet that test.

It makes you wonder why that is, exactly. It’s a question more people will be asking following this decision.

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