By M. Duncan Scott
The Golden Ticket winners have been announced. Just like Willie Wonka’s special candy bars ended up in the hands of a very, very select group.
The chance to participate in the Division I NCAA Swimming and Diving championships is not quite that select, but close. The NCAA released the official psyche sheet of 281 swimmers for the D1 ladies 10 days ago and the 235 swimmers on the men’s list came out a week later.
Thus, barely more than 500 men and women will get the chance to compete in West Lafayette or Minneapolis. USA Swimming directs its time standards committee to come up with times to produce a national championship in the summer with 900-1000 swimmers. That reflects an intent to allow twice as many top end athletes in the highest national competition as is allowed by the NCAA.
In the NCAA it makes no difference how the athletes may advance their craft. The invitations are limited to a set number of athletes, a set number of airline tickets, a set, arbitrary number of dollars that will be allotted to swimming by the NCAA.
The NCAA meet definitely has the advantage of the psychological drive and excitement of representing your school, but it is a shame that the meets are diminished when the athletes have had to pay the price in reduced participation and memories for reasons that have nothing to do with quality of performance or facility limitations.
The NCAA meets have also been a long standing, continuing example of institutionalized, unchallenged sexual discrimination based on unjustified, unfair interpretations of the federal department of education regulations known as Title IX.
Same sport. Same events. Using the same facilities with the same dimensions. Now with men swimming in full body suits, even the equipment is the same. Except where Title IX has been used as an excuse to eliminate the men’s team, usually the same schools are involved with both the top men’s and women’s programs. Even in the athletes’ preparation for college swimming no significant difference in opportunity can be established since almost all participants are produced by the same network of USA Swimming clubs which have been providing balanced opportunities to young men and women for better than half a century.
Reality has no impact on political correctness, though. Opening programs and providing scholarships for women in the 70’s and 80’s was important and necessary for equal opportunity for women, but swimming was in a unique position in that the supply of interested athletes already existed. They just needed a place to play and scholarships to financially stay in the sport, but no program was needed to encourage new participants to come into the sport. Without even getting into the issue of the continued status of unbalanced scholarship availability, there was no significant justification within this sport to set participation limitations requiring fewer male slots than female slots ever, and for this 20% differential in opportunity to swim in a college national championship to continue at this time is unconscionable. Frankly, to limit the women to 280 slots, rather than a number reflecting the quality of their performances that year, is lousy too. Limiting the men to 235 by comparison is simply another level of lousy. When discrimination is set in specified numbers, when does it stop?
A challenge to this egregious 280-235 imbalance, regardless of how logically obvious the need for a challenge may be, stands very little chance when set in motion by an outside group like an association of wrestling coaches. The NCAA’s claim to be a voluntary organization is almost like a cloak of immunity. It will take someone on the inside, an institution within the NCAA, to recognize and acknowledge the intellectual dishonesty structured into the present system.
Even if an argument for it existed at the time it was instituted, none exists within this sport at this time. Can you say “equal protection” and not choke when the women get 735 swims and the men only 571, when there are more female qualifiers in each and every one of the 13 individual events, by double-figures in 11 of the 13? So long as the college campus is controlled by the clueless types who went ballistic when Harvard president Lawrence Summers simply raised thoughts about generalized differences and tendencies in gender career choices and performance – thoughts supportable from recent legitimate academic studies – it will take an exceptional college leader to step forward to battle the p.c. status quo. But it would be right.
The only sure point is that every one of the 516 athletes and their coaches deserve a huge congratulations and great memories from their special experience of participation in the 2005 meets. And we can also only hope that in the future more deserving athletes, based on the quality of their performances, will have the opportunity. Enjoy those Golden Tickets while you can.