Boise State’s decision to drop wrestling and pursue baseball likely will lead to significant improvements — and costs — in the women’s sports programs.
The school needs to spend up to $1 million per year more on women’s sports and upgrade those teams’ facilities to meet Title IX requirements. Boise State officials said the process to improve facilities already has begun. Baseball also is expected to cost at least $1.5 million more than wrestling, which places the true cost of the wrestling-baseball trade at nearly $2.5 million per year, minus whatever revenue the baseball team produces.
Boise State expects to pay these bills in part through university support of the athletic department, spokesman Greg Hahn said. He noted that the percentage of Boise State’s athletic department budget that comes from institutional support is among the lowest in the Mountain West Conference.
Athletic Director Curt Apsey said “department savings, fund-raised dollars and institutional support” will be needed to pay for baseball.
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The gender-equity concerns and baseball costs — the baseball budget is expected to hit nearly $2 million in year three of competition — were included in 53 pages of internal athletic department documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman through a public-records request.
Wrestling, with a $488,000 budget, was cut in April. There’s no timeline to add baseball, but uniforms already have been unveiled and Apsey has suggested 2019-20 as the possible first year of competition.
“There should be a skeptical eye when you add an expensive sport, from wrestling mats to a new baseball stadium. You have to wonder what the ladies are playing in because across the country there’s been so many years of Title IX abuse,” said Scott Lewis, the co-founder of the Association for Title IX Administrators.
According to Boise State documents and emails, the athletic department faces “additional scholarship and facility challenges within gender equity” with a “significant disparity” in facilities and a “significant advantage” for men’s teams in recruiting, travel and housing/dining budgets with the addition of baseball.
Cutting wrestling, which had what Boise State’s documents termed “terrible facilities,” actually widened those gaps. The wrestling team’s budget also was among the department’s lowest. With wrestling removed from consideration, the average men’s facility is superior to what the women have — and that’s before the baseball team likely moves into a brand-new, $40 million stadium proposed by the Boise Hawks.
“Disparities between male and female programs would increase in significance, most severe related to facilities,” according to a Boise State report on the possibility of eliminating wrestling and adding baseball. “... Gymnastics practice facility (was) canceled out due to wrestling, swimming locker room (was) canceled out due to wrestling.”
Out of compliance
Title IX is the 1972 federal act that, among other things, requires women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports.
In 2014, an outside Title IX consultant studied the feasibility of adding baseball, along with the Broncos’ current facilities, and found that the sport would increase the disparity if Boise State does little to improve women’s sports.
The report determined that it “may be interpreted as Boise State administrators choosing to improve the men’s program before remedying compliance concerns for women’s programs. Such actions may suggest that the administration of Boise State University has chosen — intentionally — to violate Title IX through intentional discrimination.”
BSU has installed a new playing surface and improved sound systems at Bronco Gym, where the volleyball team competes, as part of an effort to address the facilities gap.
“We have already made improvements to Bronco Gym and women’s program locker rooms and established exclusivity of the women’s swimming facility during competition,” Apsey said. “We know we are also going to need to make improvements at Dona Larsen Park (for softball). Over the course of the next few years, this will be addressed.”
To be Title IX compliant, schools can meet any of the following three: Demonstrate that the percentage of its female athletes is nearly the same as the percentage of female undergraduate students; show that it is steadily increasing opportunities for women; or prove that it is meeting the athletic interests and abilities of its female students. According to documents provided to the State Board of Education, Boise State’s best chance of compliance comes in the first test. And in 2015-16, the Broncos were out of compliance for the first time in seven years.
Additionally, the NCAA states that “Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; travel and daily allowance/per diem; access to tutoring; coaching, locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; medical and training facilities and services; housing and dining facilities and services; publicity and promotions; support services and recruitment of student-athletes.”
Some sports, such as football or baseball, are more expensive, but football has no comparable women’s sport. Baseball has softball, which is in line for some big improvements in coming years. The cost of upgrading Dona Larsen Park for the softball team is approximately $250,000, for improved locker rooms, seating and lights. The softball program’s budget for 2015-16, the most recent available figure, was $659,039 — about one-third of what baseball will cost annually.
“It isn’t always perfectly equal, because a sport like football is more expensive than others, but what matters is the quality of equipment for the women, the travel, what kind of hotels they stay in. That’s important,” Lewis said.
Boise State could shift women’s teams into better facilities without upgrading. The 2014 study suggested having soccer play at Albertsons Stadium or the new downtown stadium and volleyball at Taco Bell Arena. A 2017 report suggests that women could use the football weight room and training room to improve their facility access.
“It would be prudent to now address those lower quality women’s facilities,” according to a department study sent by Apsey on April 12.
The impact of baseball
The decision to drop wrestling and pursue baseball wasn’t motivated by finances. Baseball’s approximate budget of $2 million, which includes potential facility leases (a projected $400,000 per year), is four times the size of the wrestling budget.
One reason why baseball is being added, in addition to increasing the school’s visibility and place in the Mountain West, is it “strengthens our place overall as a department should conference expansion become an opportunity,” according to the university. The public records indicate the decision wasn’t made until soon before the April 18 announcement, and many repercussions were considered from morale and financial standpoints.
Meanwhile, according to the Broncos’ financial impact research, approximately $230,000 in additional funding needs to be added to female recruiting budgets (or men’s budgets need to be reduced by that much), $100,000 to travel budgets, $313,500 to equipment budgets and $194,000 to housing/dining budgets, all with “special consideration to softball having matching budget to baseball.” Those amounts could be smaller if enough money is provided that “each women’s program is adequately funded.”
The documents note the potential to add a women’s sport — lacrosse and water polo are mentioned — but “at this point, nothing is imminent,” Apsey said.
Even football affected
Based on 2015-16 enrollment, Boise State’s scholarship count has a slight advantage toward men, while baseball’s addition brings in 32 more males, plus 11.7 scholarships. That means there would need to be, by Boise State’s count, 11 to 32 more female participation opportunities — female athletes on scholarship, partial scholarship or competing as walk-ons. One sport that doesn’t currently offer scholarships, beach volleyball, is now slated to have an allotment of six.
“From a financial aid perspective, we are phasing in scholarships for beach volleyball and will continue to supplement existing women’s programs as needed,” Apsey said.
The projected cost of a baseball scholarship is $30,500, so that is another $183,000 in annual costs for beach volleyball’s scholarships, in addition to the estimated $837,500 for recruiting, travel, equipment and housing/dining. Boise State reports also suggest requiring women’s teams to fill all available scholarships. Some teams operate with less than a full allotment because of budgetary concerns.
In 2015-16, 104.46 of the 117 scholarships (89.5 percent) available to women were awarded, compared to 128.3 of the 129.5 (99.1 percent) available to men, according to State Board of Education documents from April.
The State Board documents note that, with regard to female opportunities, “for the first time in seven years, Boise State University did not comply with this program component.” Forty-nine percent of athletes were women, though full-time undergraduate enrollment was 51.8 percent women. Furthermore, the State Board report says “full accommodation of interests and abilities for women has likely not been achieved.”
One way Boise State has tried to maintain its Title IX compliance is through “roster management,” which includes limiting the roster size of some men’s sports. That practice has prevented men’s track and field, men’s tennis and even football from carrying ideal squad sizes, according to Boise State documents.
Football coach Bryan Harsin said the Broncos’ roster is capped at 110 (a maximum of 85 players are allowed to be on scholarship under NCAA rules). He said the ideal size is “115 to 120.” Though unanswered, a question raised in Boise State’s research on adding baseball is “how will it affect our two highest revenue-generating sports (football and men’s basketball)?”
“You’d like to be able to find some more guys as walk-ons you think can become scholarship-type players, especially since there’s a cap on the size of signing classes (25 per period),” Harsin said.
Said Apsey: “We will invest in existing programs to remain in range with competitive squad sizes for each program department-wide.”