Cal alumni angered by the planned loss of baseball have targeted Title IX, but their wrath is misplaced. It should be directed at chancellor Robert Birgeneau and athletic director Sandy Barbour. Whether they were dissembling or just hadn’t done the math, they misled alumni who contributed to keep their favorite sports.
Title IX is a good thing. In place since 1972, it gives women opportunities to play sports that hadn’t existed.
In the world in which I grew up, men played sports, while women were expected to cheer them on.
This seemed right to me until I got married. My wife had been a very good high school basketball player in Tennessee. Had she been a boy, she could have gotten a college athletic scholarship. Because she was a girl, there was nothing.
That was not fair, and my understanding was enhanced by the indefatigable Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals, along with other women athletes.
Now, women have professional sports in tennis, golf and basketball. They aren’t as prosperous as their male counterparts, but the mere fact that they exist means a great deal to women. When she was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, Jennifer Azzi said her greatest moment came when she knew she was going to play professionally.
I was a mediocre athlete in my youth, but playing sports was something I thoroughly enjoyed. They gave me an incentive to eat right and stay in shape, and they taught me the value of teamwork, as well as competition.
Why should women be deprived of that experience?
Now, they aren’t, and I think that’s had other benefits, for them and society. Young girls today seem much more confident and self-assured, an assessment I’ve heard often from fathers of girls.
Because professional sports don’t pay nearly as much for women, girl athletes don’t make the mistake that many young boys do, thinking they’ll make a fortune in their sport so academics aren’t important. The girl athletes study hard, go to good colleges and graduate.
That’s probably why the percentage of female undergraduates has risen at Cal, to 52 percent of the student body. The ratio of women to men is one of the considerations in Title IX. A Cal alum who played baseball — and also has what he calls “three feminist daughters” — wondered what will happen if the ratio changes in favor of men. I told him the percentage of women will probably go up.
It’s difficult to get women’s sports to produce revenue in college because men usually buy the tickets to games and most of them prefer to watch men’s sports. There’s also no counterpart in women’s sports to football.
But now, the rising costs of football are overcoming the revenue stream.
So it all comes down to participation, and I think participation is equally important for men and women.
The only way to restore Cal baseball is to start another women’s sport with comparable numbers. Instead of sending up smoke screens of obfuscation, the Cal chancellor and athletic director need to be honest about that with alums.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.