MANKATO — In light of recent sweeping budget cuts to university programs, Kevin Buisman had to decide which of Minnesota State University’s 23 athletics programs had to go.
Axed were men’s swimming, men’s tennis and women’s bowling, which had been added fairly recently to offer more opportunities for women. After the cuts, 11 women’s sports and nine men’s sports were left.
When making these decisions, Title IX is at the forefront of the conversation because Buisman has to make sure the same number of opportunities are offered to women as men, he said. And many men’s sports have more public support and higher revenue potential than women’s sports, leading some people to believe that the law is unfair in such circumstances.
“We’ve had to be very conscientious of that, and some would say unfairly,” said Buisman, MSU athletics director. “We’ve had to focus on some of the men’s programs because we’ve had to maintain our commitment to proportionality.”
But Buisman looks at the issue in various ways. Greater popularity of men’s programs may be a result of more boys participating in youth sports. If girls see that at the collegiate level they’ll have the same opportunities as men, it could inspire more participation and grow women’s programs at all levels.
The fan perspective on the issue is just one of many, Buisman said. Employers seek out student athletes because of their leadership, teamwork and time-management skills, among other things, and women should have just as much opportunity as men to gain those skills, Buisman said.
“People have different motivations in terms of how they measure the value of athletics,” he said. “You’re going to come across some naysayers who say, ‘That’s as exciting as watching paint dry.’ ... But I hear from a lot of first-time spectators who say, ‘I’ve never been to a women’s volleyball game.’ ‘I’ve never been out to a soccer match.’ And inevitably they come away saying, ‘Wow, they’re pretty
Buisman said the MSU administration has been highly supportive of gender equity and Title IX in the 10 years he’s been at the university. Closely monitored are not only participation numbers of each gender, but budget, salaries, scholarship opportunities, access to facilities and program promotion, among other things.
“I don’t think it’s a compulsory exercise,” he said. “I really think they have their hearts behind it.”
The support can be seen in the growth of the women’s programs, Buisman said. Compared to other universities, he said MSU has demonstrated a “high level of compliance” with Title IX.
Still, he understands the frustration on the other side of the argument.
“I understand the other side of the coin, the sort of grizzled men that sometimes feel Title IX and gender equity have been at the expense of men’s programs; I understand those arguments,” he said. “That’s part of my role, to balance interests of men and women.”