UMKC announced last week that it will drop its men’s tennis program after this coming school year.
Nothing new there. K-State dropped its program in the mid-1980s, just as I was thinking about trying to play in college. KU dropped its program a few years later. Missouri has no program, either.
The reason: It costs money. Nobody goes to watch tennis matches, and no TV network pays for the rights to broadcast them. So colleges simply have to eat the salary for a couple of coaches and the cost of partial scholarships to attract players. Plus they have to have somewhere to play, which means either a lease or raising millions for a building.
Title IX, the federal law to try to level the playing field for women, has protected women’s tennis programs — all the schools noted above still have women’s teams. That helps balance the number of scholarships colleges have to give to men to compete in football. It’s the same reason K-State has a women’s crew team and once had an equestrian team. You might also note that K-State has a women’s soccer team but no men’s team.
Tennis has long seemed full of its own particular contradictions. Title IX was enacted, at least in my mind, to provide equality of opportunity to young women. As a law enacted by the U.S. Congress, it stands to reason that the prime beneficiaries were intended to be young American women.
That’s just not what’s happening in college tennis. Just look at the K-State roster for the past 25 years: It’s predominantly Eastern Europeans and South Americans.
I don’t blame K-State. The coaches want to win, and the best players they can find are from those regions. Students there want to come to American universities. It’s just the way it works.
It’s worth noting that men’s tennis rosters also are substantially made up of foreign students, too, due to the fact that tennis is a bigger deal overseas, so better athletes there play it. Note that Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are all European. Jack Sock, the Kansas City kid who appeared ready to compete at the highest level as an American, is currently ranked 173rd in the world.
I also know that the foreign women who come here to play tennis enrich the campus and our community, and enhance international understanding. Those are good.
But those things never were the point of Title IX.
Title IX also wasn’t meant to limit opportunities for young American men. In the aggregate, it probably hasn’t, or if it has, it’s a relatively minor problem compared to the gains for our society of promoting equal opportunity. In my view, Title IX has been a major step forward. But combined with the big money driving football, it has also meant that if you’re a young man who plays tennis, or wrestles, or swims, you have fewer and fewer chances to compete at the major college level.
Here are the stats: In tennis, 1.2 percent of high school boys varsity athletes play in Division I. In soccer, it’s 1.1 percent. Wrestling: 1.0 percent. Football: 2.5 percent.
If you need an athletics scholarship to help you get a college education, better put down the rackets and hit the weight room, fellas. Football’s your best shot.