Gymnast Missed '96 Olympics After UCLA Dropped Team

ByJen Brown

June 28, 2005— -- Steve McCain began his gymnastics career in 1984, the same year the U.S. men's gymnastics team won Olympic gold at UCLA's gymnasium. Three members of the team were products of UCLA and over the next decade, UCLA produced at least one male gymnast in each Olympiad.

As McCain neared the end of high school, he knew UCLA had the history and tradition to propel his own Olympic dreams, so he accepted a full athletic scholarship from the Bruins.

As a freshman, McCain won his first National Collegiate Athletic Association individual championship on the high bar and was prepared to build on that success in his sophomore season while also preparing for the 1996 Olympic trials.

But at the start of the 1993-94 school year, McCain and his teammates were informed UCLA was dropping the gymnastics program.

"I was just like, 'Whoa, how is UCLA dropping their program?'" McCain, now 31, recalled. "I can understand if it was just some school with a gymnastics program that didn't accomplish anything, but we're UCLA for goodness sake. I thought we'd be the last one to go."

At the time, UCLA cited budget concerns as the reason for cutting men's gymnastics, as well as men's swimming and women's gymnastics. The school made no reference to Title IX, but at the same time it dropped those three programs, it also added women's soccer and later reinstated women's gymnastics.

McCain's story is all too familiar for Jim McCarthy. McCarthy is a spokesman for the College Sports Council, a group comprised of coaches primarily of men's sports, but also includes some coaches of female athletes.

The Council says Title IX is the reason several men's teams have disappeared from college campuses and rosters in men's sports have been capped, when women's rosters have not. The Council is among the organizations that support the recent clarification of Title IX.

In March, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights released a clarification that advises schools they can use an e-mail survey to gauge the athletic interest of the student body, and if there is not interest and ability among the underrepresented sex (usually women), schools do not have to provide athletic opportunities in those sports, but will still be in compliance with Title IX. Title IX is the 1972 law that bans discrimination in education -- including sports programs at schools and universities -- based on gender. To read more, Click Here.

The clarification is "a strong and important first step toward reform of a policy that has wreaked havoc on college campuses," McCarthy said. "What's especially positive about it is that it allows every athlete, male or female, to have opportunities in athletics simply by raising a hand and saying 'I wish to participate.' "

Those opposed to the clarification say it will freeze the progress made in women's sports in the last three decades, during which time the number of female college athletes soared from 74,239 in 1981-82 to 162,752 in 2003-04, according to the NCAA. Between 1988-89 and 2003-04, there was a net gain of 1,971 women's teams.

The number of male athletes also increased in that time, from 169,800 athletes in 1981-82 to 217,309 in 2003-04, according to the NCAA. Between 1988-89, there was a net gain of 42 teams; however, among Division I schools during that time period, there was a net loss of 239 men's teams. Certain sports have fared worse than others.

In 1979, there were 107 NCAA men's gymnastic teams; in 2004, there were 20. Other men's sports that have lost a significant number of teams include cross country, indoor and outdoor track, golf, tennis, rowing, swimming and wrestling.

Judy Sweet, senior vice president of championships and education at the NCAA, says that Title IX is not to blame for the loss of men's athletic programs.

"The assumption that women have benefited disproportionately is colored by institutions making financial decisions with where they want their resources to go," Sweet said. "The resources are going into just a couple of men's sports … Another important consequence is rather than adding opportunities for the underrepresented gender, they choose to take away opportunities to the majority gender."

While supportive of female athletes, McCain finds little comfort in any reason UCLA had for dropping men's gymnastics. He said it was the disruption to his training, as well as emotional stress surrounding the ordeal, that contributed to his failure to qualify for the 1996 Olympic team, despite being ranked among the top three in the country at the time. McCain eventually left UCLA in 1999 before finishing his degree, and moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. He qualified for the 2000 Olympic team and was an alternate in 2004.

"I'm all for women's opportunities and athletics," McCain said. "However, I think that the treatment of male athletes as Title IX unfolds is not right."

McCarthy said there are many more who support the clarification, but are afraid to speak out because doing so brings negative publicity.

"Somehow, because we've dared to question this sacred cow, we've been smeared as sexist knuckle-draggers," McCarthy said. "They have smeared us as sexist and Neanderthals and that has absolutely poisoned any debate."

Bob Groseth, coach of Northwestern's men's swim team, agreed.

"My criticism of the way the media has covered this is that anyone who questions Title IX is against Title IX," Groseth said. "We're trying to get Title IX to be fair."

Groseth pointed out that swimming includes men and women who often train together, and that he fights for expanding women's opportunities, as well. Groseth said that women's swimming greatly benefited from the introduction of Title IX, since there were already female swimmers at the high school level who were qualified to step into the newly created spots at the college level.

"My advocacy is not for or against Title IX. Mine is for opportunity," Groseth said. "Some of the stories, like these two girls in lacrosse [who became national champions on a four-year-old team] are great stories. But let's have great stories on the guys' side, too.

"It shouldn't be men against women."

To read more about women's success stories, Click Here.

Later, will look at possible resolutions to debates surrounding the Title IX clarification.

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