Sunday, August 16, 2009


This morning, an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer caught my eye: “Playing Field Still Not Level.” Basically, it exposes the fact that the state of Ohio does not enforce Title IX (1973), the legislation which mandates that public high schools offer male and female students an “equal opportunity” to participate in sports. Although I am both an avid “sports nut” and a supporter of gender equity, I am nevertheless puzzled by our disproportionate emphasis on sports in public high schools and the costs that are passed on to taxpayers; especially when most public schools are struggling to offer decent academic programs. Obviously, some sports are more expensive than others. Although I am a football fan, there is no good reason to offer this expensive sport in cash-strapped public schools (or any public school!). Without boring you with numbers I’ll merely point out that it’s very expensive to: build and maintain a football stadium, transport 75-100+ students to and from practice and games, buy equipment, pay coaches, and pay liability insurance premiums. It is the king of deficit sports. Unfortunately, football is also a “Y Chromosome sport,” and therefore any school that has a football team of, say, 150 male students, equality of opportunity would require 150 opportunities for females. This usually means that any school that takes Title IX seriously will not be able to offer other male sports such as wrestling, track and field, or lacrosse. If Ohio’s level of seriousness in respect to title IX is indicative of what’s going on elsewhere, public high school athletics is still overwhelming male dominated.

My basic argument is more subtle. I would argue that it makes more sense to offer athletic opportunities through private, non-profit voluntary associations than tax-supported schools. In fact, most communities already offer sports for pre-high school children outside of school, especially Pee-Wee Football, Little League Baseball, and AAU soccer, basketball, and track. In order to pay for these opportunities, parents pay a fee and/or raise money via bake sales, candy sales etc. Most coaches are parents that volunteer. The beauty of this arrangement is that the costs are incurred by those who receive the benefits. But today, these private endeavors are crowded out by public, tax supported high school teams. (Talk to any “select soccer coach!”) Now I can’t guarantee that football would survive privatization. It’s probably too expensive for most parents. In other words, football would not survive exposure to the free market, which is precisely why it is socialized. Think Amtrack…

One reason why I am a critic of public schools is that an inordinate amount of coercively obtained tax money is expended on sports and other extra-curricular activities. In fact, many schools that lack science laboratories, and/or air conditioning have a full array of expensive athletic teams. But then again, labs and air conditioners do not provide subsidized after-school adult supervision for mischief-prone teenagers!

Now back to title IX… If Cincinnati decided to eliminate all high school sports, parents that want their children to participate in sports would have to pay directly for these activities. Interested parents and students would have to set up these voluntary associations and volunteer to help coach, sell concessions, wash uniforms, mow lawns, etc. If the parents of female students are less-willing to get involved, that is not “discrimination.” It’s called “parenting.”

Unfortunately, the cultural drift of American society makes it difficult for high schools to cut back on extra-curricular activities, because colleges and universities now base admission and scholarships on participation in these kinds of activities. High schools that merely offer top-notch academic programs do not compete very well based on this mindset. How many student play high schools sports, cheerlead, or march in the marching band hoping to earn a college scholarship? When the stakes are that high, those voluntary coaches and band leaders are quickly replaced by paid “professionals.” And finally, many public schools are so bad that students won’t show up for school unless they can play sports, cheerlead, or play in the marching band. Well, Professor Serafini, what do you have to say about all of this? And “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”