Robin Jones Kerr: Women’s sports funding is a victory GW can celebrate

There may not be much to console grieving Colonials fans after an emotional 71-66 loss to Memphis on Friday.

But take comfort. GW would march confidently to the NCAA Tournament Championship in an alternate universe where wins are determined by a very different measure: spending on women’s sports.

Mother Jones magazine published a mock bracket last week that pits universities against each other based on who spends the biggest share of its athletics budget on women’s sports. The resulting matchups looked different from any busted bracket you’ve probably seen so far – including President Barack Obama’s.

GW spent about 15 percent more last academic year on its 13 women’s sports than it did for the 11 men’s programs, according to the Department of Education.

With that spending level, GW walloped its real-life NCAA first-round opponent, Memphis, which only spends one-third of its men’s sports budget on its women’s teams. The Colonials advanced through this imaginary tournament all the way to the national title game, where they lost to American University.

While a win for GW in the real NCAA Tournament would have been nice, scoring high in this imaginary bracket means the University could garner national attention for its athletics while keeping its priorities in the right place.

It means the administration is making equality a focus, even when few of its competitor schools with richer athletic programs are doing so.

There’s no comparison between the sports budgets at GW and Memphis, of course: The latter shells out almost three times more on its men’s basketball team – a program which costs $8.4 million – while GW spends just $3.1 million on Colonials men’s hoops.

But get this: The two schools spend almost exactly the same on their women’s basketball teams, with both coming in at just over $2 million a year.

Memphis, like many other big state schools, touts a massive football program that rakes in revenue for the school, allowing it to spend widely on other programs.

But Memphis appears not to filter its extra dollars – the about $11 million per year from football alone – into women’s sports.

Granted, Memphis spends more per student athlete than GW does – thanks to the sheer size of its athletics budget. But it doesn’t matter if a female athlete at Memphis is getting more funding than a female athlete at GW. That’s comparing apples to oranges.

What matters is that a female athlete at Memphis is getting a third of what goes to a male athlete there. Treating two students at the same school differently based on gender is what’s really problematic here, and what wouldn’t be allowed in any other context.

Female athletes need to be guaranteed the same opportunities that males take for granted, and the only way to do that is to fund their activities equally. Imagine the justifiable outcry if female students were only allowed to use 30 percent of the study rooms in Gelman.

Naysayers might argue that female athletes don’t deserve the same amount of funding as their male peers because women’s sports don’t bring in the same revenue. But that’s not the fault of women in college sports.

It’s a social problem – one deeply rooted in a history of sexism in athletics – that makes people more inclined to watch men play than women. But it’s something that will change over time thanks to political actions like Title IX, the landmark piece of legislation that required equal opportunities for men and women at schools, especially in athletic programs.

Schools can’t make funding decisions – choices with important implications for equality of all students – based on which teams people would rather root for. We wouldn’t give male students priority registration in the engineering school just because we as a society were still more comfortable with graduating male engineers.

I won’t let our university off the hook entirely. Head coaches for men’s teams at GW make 45 percent more than their female peers. That’s a massive gap for the athletics department to close in the coming years.

Schools can’t compromise funding for women’s teams to guarantee success for their men – that’s what’s happening at schools like Memphis, where women’s sports receive just a third of what men’s do. Against the competition, this is what GW is doing right, and it’s what we should celebrate.

Robin Jones Kerr, a junior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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