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Not for Lack of Interest

So why do we accept such a notion when it comes to women's sports?

The answer, according George Washington law professor W. Burlette Carter, is that sports remain just about the only area of education in which we still segregate by gender.

"What we see with Title IX and athletics," Carter said, "is a debate that reaches back to the Civil Rights Movement, can separate ever be equal? Particularly, can separate be equal when the separated parties are not equally valued?"

There is a potential answer to this rhetorical and semantic mess. But it's an unnerving one.

Instead of trying to make things equitable, why don't we just make them equal?

If an athletic department offers football and wrestling to men, why not offer the same sports to women? Perfect sameness is no answer -- putting men and women all on the same field together, at least for now, doesn't make sense. But stressing "equal" over equitable does makes sense, because it cuts out the chronically devaluing idea that women may not have an "interest" here.

Treat sports the same way we treat science, math, music or engineering.

"Go ahead and offer women's football," says Theresa Walton, a Kent State professor of Sport and Leisure. "I think it makes sense. Why train boys to play it and yet have a whole population of women who don't have that awareness of their bodies? It's almost asking for victimhood. It limits what girls and women think about their own possibilities."

What's wrong with it is that it takes us to the heart of the issue: cost. And no one wants to go there. At the heart of Title IX is our value system in college sports. Like it or not, we still believe some domains are not acceptable for women, and like it or not, we are not interested enough in equality to accept the cost of it. We prefer to shamelessly indulge our premier football programs, and tell ourselves it's okay because their bowl money pays the tab for a lot of other sports. We aren't ready, on a visceral level, to trim men's football budgets and cut scholarships from 85 to 50 and give them to women.

In order to offer football to women we'd have to decide: What is the real purpose of athletics? If it's just to make money, then all non-revenue sports should be eliminated, which means most women's and men's. But if it's education, then there's no real justification for unequal opportunities.

There are those who will no doubt say total equality is not realistic. You couldn't make it work financially, and anyway, women aren't interested in playing football. Oh, really?

That's what we once said about women's basketball. But the massive audience for this Final Four is plain evidence that interest follows opportunity. Last year's championship between Tennessee and Connecticut was ESPN's highest-rated basketball game of the year at that time -- male, female or pro. I'll say it again: It rated higher than any NBA game on the network.

Take a moment, and conduct a survey of yourself. List the things you never would have been interested in, until they were made available to you. The current assumption is that that interest always precedes accessibility. History, and the expansion of your own mind, shows it's just the opposite.

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