Level the Fields


Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part staff editorial on the athletics department. The first part, printed yesterday in this space, incorrectly stated that the softball team has to buy its own uniforms. It doesn't.

All sorts of discrepancies in the treatment of Harvard's athletic teams regularly crop up, according to coaches and players. Of course, athletics department officials say they treat everyone fairly--a claim that would be much more believable if they didn't guard budget figures like Politburo heavies.

The fairness problem is particularly acute with respect to women's sports. While Title IX, a provision of the 1972 federal Education Amendments, legally requires schools to provide "equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes," Harvard, as well as most other schools, is far from achieving equality. Carole Kleinfelder--the coach of the women's lacrosse team, which has had more big victories in recent years than almost any other Harvard team--sees a disparity in the amount of funding and support from the University and alumni that women's teams get.

Kleinfelder and other coaches, in interviews with The Crimson, talked about a range of "subtle inequities" that range from scheduling training room time to external funding to not welcoming women to apply for coaching positions. Women's teams also have a harder time drawing alumni dollars under the "Friends of..." support system. Mens' team have the advantage with alumni, and women's teams try to help each other through the Harvard-Radcliffe Foundation for Women's Athletics. But that is often not enough and since the University doesn't help make up the difference, they have to spend a lot of time fundraising to support themselves.

There is also the question of the athletics department's attitude towards women. When the department presented an annual report on Title IX, Kleinfelder wasn't even asked to contribute to the report. In fact, she knew nothing about it until the meeting.

Some would explain the disparity between women' and men's athletics, and between richer teams and poor ones, by saying that more visible teams deserve special perks because their victories bring Harvard more in alumni donations. You spend more to get more, the argument might go. (Athletics officials, of course, don't make this argument. According to them, every team is treated about the same.)

But for this to be true, two links have to be drawn. The first is from perks to victories--the idea that special treatment helps teams win. The second is from victories to alumni giving--the idea that winning leads alums to open their wallets a little farther.

These arguments might make sense. The correlation between perks and winning and between winning and donating may be strong. Again, until we see some numbers, we can't find out. But two things are clear.

First, it makes little sense that pork barrel projects like Red Top lead to better performance. Second, no matter how many goodies the big teams get, the smaller teams should be guaranteed some basics. If Harvard is going to have a men's water polo team, for example, it should ensure that the team doesn't have to spend too much time raising its own funds. And regardless of the cost efficiency, all players who win NCAA titles deserve just as much respect and just as many rewards.

Administrators might claim that the money question all comes down to alumni givers. That's reasonable. Perhaps it's true that hockey alums (a.k.a. The Friends of Harvard Hockey) want to give to the hockey team, baseball alums to the baseball team, etc.

But Harvard should be willing at least to encourage these alumni to be flexible with their dollars--especially when some teams get such vastly smaller sums than others. It's fine if the hockey team can afford a new scoreboard, but only if other teams don't have to raise money just to have the basics.

Harvard could set up a "Friends of Harvard Sports" fund to encourage across-the-board gifts. Some might say that alums wouldn't donate to such a fund, even in times of crises. But only the most cynical alumni with deep pockets would allow certain hurting sports to die. That would hurt athletics at Harvard and the College as a whole. Athletic department officials and coaches of the big-money teams can push wealthy alums to give to the general good.

This brings us to the purpose of student athletics at Harvard. Participation on a team should be seen as an open opportunity, not a potential money-maker for the University. If students are going to devote their lives to a Harvard team, they should be treated fairly.

But they shouldn't be treated differently from the rest of us. For two years now, The Crimson has lamented the special admissions tips that athletes receive. The Admissions Office persists in the lie that athletics are no more valued than other extracurriculars, even though a 1990 federal investigation showed that athletes score significantly lower in every category used for admissions.

And this week, The Crimson confirmed that coaches submit ordered lists of applicants to the Admissions Office--lists which can mean the difference between admittance and rejection. "I fear that this may be tough without a field hockey push," one admissions officer wrote on the summary sheet of an applicant.

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