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A report released last week by the Athletic Department on funding of interscholastic sports revealed that Harvard spent nearly twice as much on men's sports teams as it did on women's teams during the 1995-6 academic year. While the statistic may seem disturbing, it is no cause for alarm. A careful review of the report dispels concerns about the possibility of rampant discrimination against female athletes at Harvard. Indeed some steps may be warranted to narrow the spending gap, but the report does not illustrate any pattern of unfairness. There is no indication that Harvard has provided female athletes with anything less than the equal opportunity for participation which they deserve and the law requires.
A close look at the report, released in compliance with the 1995 Congressional Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA), reveals that much of the discrepancy can be explained. For starters, the men's football team, with no female counterpart, makes up for more than half of the funding gap. In addition, the spending statistics include game management costs such as ticket sales, police, etc. which run much higher at men's football and hockey games, for instance, than at women's sporting events. Men's teams, however, make up for this increased cost by generating about five times more revenue than women's teams. The report also masks the fact that the figures include money contributed by alumni donors who specify which sport they want to support.
Regardless of the bare numbers, however, the real question is whether women and men are given equal access to the funding required for the maintenance and improvement of their respective athletic programs. It appears that they are. Harvard has more varsity women's teams than any other college in the country, and many of them are among the nation's elite. There is no pressing demand for a women's team that does not currently exist, nor are any women's teams being cut to divert funds to men. "There are no women athletes being denied athletic opportunities because of lack of funding," commented Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68.
Still, there are areas where improvement is called for. The Athletic Department should work to narrow the gap between the average salary received by male coaches and their female counterparts, which now stands at about $9,000. Encouraging steps have already been taken towards addressing the wide gap in recruiting expenses--men's teams outspent women's teams by nearly four-to-one. The alumni "Friends" groups for men's and women's basketball, responsible in large part for paying recruiting costs of the respective teams, have merged. Alumni groups for other sports in which both men and women participate plan on merging by the end of the year, placing recruiting donations for each pair of teams within a single fund.
The Athletic Department should also foster an environment in which women's coaches feel comfortable asking for money for their teams, challenging spending disparities in equipment costs, and demanding equal use of Harvard's facilities. Only through vigilance can fairness for all of Harvard's athletes, regardless of sex, be insured.
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