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"College" Football Has Almost Nothing to Do With College at All – The Atlantic

Green: You mention frequently in the book that football is kind of an insurance policy for non-revenue sports. When people hear ‘non-revenue sports’ oftentimes they think of women’s sports. So, when I was reading what you wrote about Title IX and the athletic department’s mentality towards women’s sports, it looked to me like they could give time, attention, and money to female sports only if it balances—but doesn’t take that time, attention, and money away from—male ones.


Gaul: Well, I don’t think the attitude is quite that bad anymore. I do think the athletic directors are serious about supporting women’s sports, some of them more than others.


The narrative of Title IX is that it’s been this huge success, and that it’s a good thing, whether men came to it reluctantly or not. But then there’s still numbers game that’s clearly being played with Title IX, and I don’t hear too much about that in the narrative.


I wrote about this through the prism of women’s rowing—a sport that I absolutely fell in love with, by the way. In the mid-90’s the athletic directors are looking around and they notice that they have football squads of 130 athletes, and they have no women’s sport that’s remotely close to that. So they needed a sport that they could pack women into, so they could offset those football numbers. They came up with this brilliant idea: women’s rowing. It’s relatively cheap. You need some water, some boats, you need a coach and maybe an assistant or two. And it costs, even today, a good women’s rowing program, one of the very elite programs, might cost $2 million or less. Whereas an elite football program is going to run somewhere around $42 million, so you see the difference right there.


A woman’s rowing coach at a place like Wisconsin is responsible for anywhere between, during tryout 200 athletes, to during the regular season 130. It’s clearly as big a sport as football, and in some ways the responsibilities are very similar coaching wise. But, a woman’s rowing coach gets paid probably $120,000 at a top program like Wisconsin. At an elite football school, it’s about $3 million for the head coach. So the head football coach is making more in one month than the rowing coaches are earning combined for an entire year.


If their responsibilities are similar and they are responsible for similar number of athletes, how could thereby this much of a gap in pay? It makes absolutely no sense—unless you say as the athletic director, “Well, the football coach is responsible for filling up this giant stadium and putting out a winning team that continues to bring in all the money.” And if you say that, then it’s a business, and that salary is fair. But that gets you back to all those questions about tax exemptions.


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