Congrats to Michigan State, but…

I was just thinking as I watched Michigan State celebrate its Frozen Four win over Boston College — wasn’t that exciting last year when the Wisconsin men and women both took home NCAA titles in the same season?

Why was that “double” not repeated this season? The Michigan State women did not have the same opportunity — there is no Spartan women’s ice hockey team at the varsity level. (MSU does have a club team that reached the quarterfinals of the ACHA national tournament.) In fact, none of the CCHA teams aside from Ohio State have a women’s varsity program.

Michigan State, like most D-I schools, spends more money on men’s sports than women’s sports. According to the latest report from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, Michigan State has an operating expense of $4.7 million for men’s sports and $2.2 million for women’s sports. MSU spends a shade less on football ($2.2 million rounded up) than all women’s sports combined.

Revenues, expenses, and profits are not the measure by which the law judges gender equity, and rightly so, since these vary widely across sports. There is a three-prong test for Title IX compliance, and Michigan State appears to be in compliance with the first prong, which is satisfied if the gender balance in varsity opportunities is similar to that of the student body. There are 389 total female participants in Spartan varsity athletics, and 369 male participants.

So how do the women match the opportunities of the men, considering that the women don’t have football (104 men) and ice hockey (30 men)? The gap is filled mainly by track (126 women to 84 men) and rowing (89 women). Filling female opportunities this way is common nationwide — track athletes are cheap on the margin when you already have the track, and rowers are cheap on the margin when you already have the boats. Volleyball (14 women), field hockey (23 women), and gymnastics (16 women) also help fill the gap.

So the equity is there, according to the law, since the number of participants is equitable. But does the Michigan State program pass a common sense test of gender equity? Are the quality of opportunities comparable? Are the 75-89th best Spartan rowers (in a sport where two varsity eights and one varsity four actually compete in NCAAs) and the 112-126th best Spartan track athletes having athletic experiences as valuable and as desirable as 30 Spartan women’s ice hockey players would?

There have been many frivolous claims and arguments made in the name of gender equity in sports over the last several decades. But complaints about the lack of women’s hockey programs in Michigan State — and across the entire CCHA — are well-placed. I’m sure these schools have excuses. I would guess that “we have ancient facilities that can’t be easily upgraded to support two teams” is probably high on the list. But such excuses have not stopped the rest of the country from adding the sport.

The last time a CCHA school won the men’s NCAA title in 1998, women’s college hockey was just beginning at the national level. The sport was still three years away from NCAA sponsorship, and the ECAC was the only league competing at the highest level. A lot has changed since then. All ECACHL men’s programs now have a women’s counterpart. Hockey East and the WCHA both have eight-team leagues, and the CHA has a four-team league. The sport has grown at the international level too. On the same day the Spartans won the men’s NCAA title, a U.S. vs. Canada game in Winnipeg drew a record crowd of 15,003.

Now that the CCHA is in the spotlight again as the home of the current NCAA champion, hopefully more people will notice the manner in which its member schools have neglected women’s hockey relative to the rest of the nation.