Doug Robinson: Women win big in Games — at what cost?

Published: Monday, Aug. 13 2012 9:55 p.m. MDT

U.S. gymnasts, top left to right, Jordyn Wieber, Gabrielle Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman and Kyla Ross raise their hands and celebrate during the medal ceremony of the Artistic Gymnastics women's team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in London. U.S. won the gold.

Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

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In the Year XL of Title IX, the recently completed Games of the XXX Olympiad are being hailed as a coming out party for female athletes, not to mention Roman numerals. This was the Games when women took center stage and stole the show, with apologies to Usain Bolt.

Women won 56 percent of the USA's total medals and 63 percent of its gold medals — the first time they have ever topped the men.

This is good news.

And bad.

First, the good news: For the first time ever, all participating countries fielded women's teams. China and Russia also received a record number of medals from women, but American women topped them all.

As you might expect, Title IX is being credited for the showing. It became law in 1972, and slowly American women have responded, leading to their record showing in London.

"I think that Title IX really gave us a head start because of the national commitment to make sure that young women are getting the opportunity to be involved in sports," Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told the Los Angeles Times.

IOC president Jacques Rogge called it "symbolically important."

At the risk of raining on the you-go-girl parade, there is downside to the story, and you wonder why it has gone unnoticed and unnoted: The rise of the women has come at the expense of the men.

Universities, the lifeblood of Olympic sports in America, have been slashing men's sports to comply with the federal government's misguided demand for 1 to 1 proportionality — if 51 percent of a school's enrollment are women, then 51 percent of the athletic scholarships must go to women, despite the original intent of the law that stated Title IX would be used to reflect interest and not as a quota system. Universities cut men's sports to even up the numbers because A.) football has 100 or so players on the roster and there isn't a women's football team, and B.) there isn't as much interest in athletics among females.

Hundreds of men's programs have been cut to even the percentages of women vs. men in participation. According to one report, between 1981 and 1999, universities eliminated 171 men's wrestling teams, 84 men's tennis teams, 56 men's gymnastics teams, 27 men's track teams and 25 men's swimming teams. For every female athlete gained, 3.6 men were lost. More scholarships are given to women than to men in every sport except, of course, football. Men's athletic departments have been largely football and basketball programs, while the women's teams have received greater funding across the board.

As a result, the farm system for the Olympic sports — also referred to as "nonrevenue sports" by college athletic directors — has been decimated. The results are reflected in the performances of U.S. Olympic teams.

I researched Olympic results back to 1968 for the sports that have been affected by Title IX — swimming, diving, track, tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, soccer and wrestling. The total medal counts for men in those sports, from 1968 to the present: 54, 53, 55, 65, 40, 46, 39, 36, 44, 37 and 39. The women's medal counts in those sports: 30, 22, 13, 48, 20, 33, 29, 26, 23, 35 and 40. (The aberrational numbers — 65 for men, 48 for women — were the results for 1984, when the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Games.)

In London, American women won medals in all the team sports — gold basketball, soccer and water polo and silver in volleyball; the men won a total of one medal in those sports (gold in basketball). If team scores were kept for track, swimming, tennis, gymnastics and even boxing, American women would have beaten their male counterparts in those sports, as well. In swimming and track, the American men earned one more medal than the women, but the women would have won a team competition based on the quality of their medals (the women won six gold to the men's three in track).

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