Disparate Impact, Chapter CCCXXVII
February 09, 2011, 05:22 AM
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From the New York Times:
When the University of California, Berkeley, announced it was eliminating five varsity teams last fall, the decision was sold as a necessary sacrifice by a university reeling from severe cuts in state aid. Four months later, the university finds itself in a dilemma caused by a largely overlooked consequence of that decision. The cutting of two women`s teams - lacrosse and gymnastics - threw the Cal athletic department out of compliance with the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX. Without the five teams, the university, based on numbers it provided, will have to add 50 spots for women and eliminate 80 spots for men to meet Title IX requirements. That is in addition to the more than 100 male athletes already cut when men`s rugby, baseball and gymnastics were dropped as varsity sports, or about the equivalent of two football squads.
Wait a minute, did that say women`s lacrosse? How many guys in California play lacrosse, much less girls? One thing I can say for sure is that a lot more boys in California play baseball, one of the cut sports, than girls in California play lacrosse.

Also, what fraction of female lacrosse players in California come from below the upper middle class? I wouldn`t be surprised if 25% of female lacrosse players in California are the daughters of fathers who went to East Coast prep schools. But disparate impact trumps common sense:

Until now, Cal had been fulfilling Title IX requirements by asserting that it met the "interests and abilities" of its female students, one of three so-called prongs that institutions can choose to comply with the law. When a university cuts even one women`s team, it can no longer rely on that claim, nor can it argue that it has a history of expanding opportunities for women, which is another option for compliance. Now, Cal has effectively backed itself into a corner and is left with only the third option - proving that female participation in athletics is proportionate to female undergraduate enrollment in the university.

By that measure, Cal falls considerably short. Just 40 percent of the 965 participants on the university`s varsity teams were women in the 2009-10 academic year; its overall student enrollment was 53 percent female. To comply with Title IX, officials have said they plan to trim male rosters while expanding the size of female teams, a practice known in college athletics as roster management.... Mellis said that by next fall, the department planned to limit its male rosters to a total of 377, and to expand the female participants to 393.

In a lot of ways, American college sports are a big waste of time and money, but one thing that you can say for them is that people really care about winning at them. So it goes to show you how powerful the theory of disparate impact is that it has so much power over something as sacred in American society as college sports.