As I sit in the stands of the Spartan Stadium, I watch as the fans file in. This is the fifth game of the season and the crowd is anxious. The Spartans won their first two games, but the last two were crushing losses that in years previous were easy wins. The fans are looking for redemption, but unfortunately there would be none tonight. The Michigan State football team would lose this game as well as the next four in a row and end the season with a 3-9 record. All of this is in my head as I look back on my notes from that day. The stadium, at the start of the game, was packed and the crowd excited and generally happy to be there. Looking back on my four years at Michigan State, some of my favorite memories is waking up early on Saturdays and tailgate before a home football game. Yet I had lately begun to wonder, why? Why is it that football and men’s basketball are the focal point of American sports? Or more specifically, why is it that those sports, as well as ice hockey, Michigan State University’s most popular sports?
Growing up I was always very involved in sports. I played club soccer for 10 years until I injured myself in high school and switched over to playing softball. I was a part of a gymnastics team for most of my elementary school years. In middle school, I wanted to try as many sports as I could so I was not only on the soccer team but also the volleyball, basketball, softball, and even tennis team. I even tried my hand at cheerleading my freshman year of high school. I was fortunate enough to go to a small enough school that allowed me to try all these different types of sports, and I never thought about gender discrimination in sports because the so-called cool kids were the athletes. It wasn’t until I came to MSU that I began to wonder if gender bias was an issue in our community. After beginning this project, I began to do some research on the history of this issue, and it wasn’t too long ago that women were not allowed to participate in athletics in the same way we are today.
Title IX is a piece of legislation that was signed into law in 1972. It would later be enacted in 1975 and by 1978 all schools had to be in compliance. There are actually 10 sections of Title IX including equal access to higher education, standardize testing, employment, sexual harassment protection, and more. The main part of the legislation that received the most push back was the section on athletics. Before 1972, females could either join cheerleading or square dancing in high school and there were virtually no female college sports, so this was a drastic change to our society. The United States Justice Department’s website has Title IX in full, but the athletic section reads:
“The regulations go on to provide that a recipient that operates or sponsors interscholastic, intercollegiate, club, or intramural athletics shall provide equal opportunity for members of both sexes. A number of factors are set forth to determine equality of opportunity including but not limited to the provision of equipment, scheduling of games and practice time, travel and per diem allowances, assignment and compensation of coaches, provision of locker rooms, provision of medical and training facilities, provision of housing and dining facilities and publicity.”2
I like to call my generation the “second generation post Title IX”. My parents were both born in 1968, so by the time they were in middle school Title IX was in full effect. I was born, obviously, long after it was enacted and people had accepted the idea of women in sports. My question became: How has gender equality changed post Title IX in college sports? And as a follow up question, how are male and female sports viewed from Michigan State students’ perspectives? While researching this question, I found that, according to www.titleix.info, “Female athletes at the typical Division I-FBS (formerly Division I-A) school receive roughly: 28% of the total money spent on athletics, 31% of the recruiting dollars, and 42% of the athletic scholarship dollars.”1This site was updated in 2016, but I wanted to see if MSU was part of this trend.
To get an idea of where my focus should be, I decided to start attending a variety of sporting events throughout the year. My first line of inquiry was attendance levels of the various sporting events and to ask as many people as I could why they were attending. At the football game, I attended, most fans when I asked them why they attended football games stated that it was because their friends were going or a few said they used to go to the football games in high school. But one gentleman stood out to me. Jerry is a sophomore here at MSU and he seemed to be quite inebriated but with a big grin on his face he shouted “Because it’s what you do here! This is college, man, when you get up at the crack of fucking dawn and you drink with your friends and then you come to a football game that you probably won’t remember.” This intrigued me, for this gentleman it was simply “what you do,” as in crowds of people attend because that is the social norm.
[Video showing the crowd energy at hockey game]
I then went to some less popular sporting events to try and compare. Although I did go and see the green and white gymnastics meet, I tried to stick to team sports for the most part. I hypothesized that I would be more likely to find students at the team sports rather than the individual sports. I first went to a volleyball game. Michigan State was up against Notre Dame and so, knowing nothing previous about how well the volleyball team does generally, I went with an open mind. I arrived at Jenison Field House and found a seat with no difficulty. As I watched people file in, I noticed many those attending seemed to be parents of players. As the game began, I was instantly reminded of high school sporting events. There were no collective chants that the crowd participated in and the stands were less than half full. But the crowd did still seem to be in high spirits after MSU won 3-0.
Many games had people that told me that they knew someone on the team, except for one men’s soccer game I attended. I attended the Penn State game that was here at the beginning of November and I encountered a group of male students that were all dressed alike in all green and white apparel. At the half, I asked a couple of them what brought them here and they said that they played soccer in high school and they occasionally come to these things. “This is the first round of the B10 tournament,” one of the boys said, “this is supposed to be a pretty good game so we figured why not.” I talked with a friend from my work that would later become my key informant, Mack who is a dancer on the MSU Dance team. The Dance team dances at football, basketball, and volleyball games and so I spoke with her a little about what she noticed was different at each of the sporting events.
What Mack had observed was similar to what I had seen over the past year, but it was interesting that she noted that she felt more appreciated at Women’s basketball games and volleyball games. Mack and I had many conversations over the course of the year and many conversations revolved around how the MSU Dance team is seen by the rest of athletics and how they are seen by the rest of the community. She feels that the appearance of the team is of more importance for her team as well as the rest of the Spirit Squad and she feels the pressure of being watched by thousands at various sporting events.
Rachel: What do you love about being on the dance team and what do you struggle with?
Mack: Ok so, I guess things that I like are obviously it brought me all of my best friends everyone that I’ve lived with um well and everything that I do basically besides for work * and Lex * revolve around dance. All the friends that I have. Um but that, with that brings like those are the same types of this wrong with because you do the same thing with the same people all the time. You live with the same people, so you wake up with them, you go to practice with them… You have to go to class with them then you do afterschool activities, you go out, you go to bed and then you do the same thing every single day… Um I feel like I can go different ways with that question too because like I do like, obviously I like being involved where, like I like being able to stand like on the football field, on the basketball court. Like it is cool when people like, like even though obviously dance team is not huge and not that popular. At the same time there are people that pay attention to you like after a basketball game one time I have a lady come up to she was like ‘I love your new white skirts, like everyone looks so good in them’ Like I don’t know her but you’re like at least someone is paying attention. But then with that comes like k you do have to realize that people are always looking at you, like you know what I mean like there’s everyone at some point in time at a basketball game looks at you. So… it’s like * a little, * you know what I mean.
Rachel: Being on like the big screen.
Mack: Ya! And like thinking about when I was a freshman I definitely didn’t think as much about like getting ready as like, like and kinda like how important it is. Like even though that sounds silly like I definitely didn’t take as much time to like do my hair. I’d just kind of throw my hair up half up half down and then you like realize like shit * I’m in front of like 75,000 people at a football game * like you know what I mean and then at, when you leave a game like before tailgates there’s so many people that like- well cause like we’ll do tailgates before you walk around the international center, you walk around the tennis courts, you walk around- cause like people can like hire us basically so we go and we do the fight song, whatever you mingle, you leave. Well then obviously you walk around all between that time and so you take a million and one pictures and it’s like you don’t know what people do with those pictures and it’s like and, and just you represents like the whole team too. So that’s why like it does kinda matter now when you see a freshman who like doesn’t know how to do your hair you’re like let me help you with your hair because, you know, I don’t want you to like- cause then if one person sees another girl and like ‘that’s what like, that’s what like a girl on the MSU Dance Team looks like, like hm that’s what they all must look like’. That went really far off that question
Much of Mack’s frustration came from just how well the football and men’s basketball teams are treated in comparison to the rest of athletics. We had a long interview where she told me all about her schedule and essentially how athletics works. Dance and cheer are the only sports under athletics that do not receive scholarships because they are not recognized as sports through the NCAA. In comparison, football players are groomed to get to the professional level. Michigan State’s policy for scholarship football players is that if they do not finish their undergraduate degree and leave school to go pro and are not drafted they can re-enroll at MSU and become a graduate assistant for the football team. They would finish out their degree while the school pays for their housing and tuition and they receive the same benefits they had before. Treatment like this, Mack says, is the reason why football players and basketball players can get away with not going to class and putting in the same amount of work that the other teams in athletics do. Another example is the weight rooms at MSU:
Rachel: So, you work out at Jenison?
Mack: Yup we work out at Jenison.
Rachel: And you practice?
Mack: Practice at Jenison. So, Jenison houses every other sport, besides for hockey, basketball, and football, every other sport is under Jenison. So, we work out at- even basketball sometimes they work out at Jenison. So, interesting there’s a women and men thing, men get to work out at the gym at Breslin and the women’s team works out at Jenison for basketball. And then, sorry one more thing before I lose my train of thought, football has an ENORMOUS, enormous gym like talking like multiple weight racks. There’s just like an absurd amount of like things and then there’s all those sports sharing Jenison’s weight room which is the size of, smaller than like just this inside part of the lobby. And it’s for, how many sports? For what eight sports? Nine? Ten? I don’t know twelve? I don’t know whatever the rest, however many sports there are.
Rachel: Ok so like you’ve been in IM West right?
Mack: Yes. So, like smaller than IM West.
Rachel: Well I know smaller than that but like the football one, is it like that size?
Mack: Huge. Bigger. Bigger, I will find a picture of it. It’s enormous, it’s just absurd how much money, I understand that they generate most of the profit but like, you’re not just like they just don’t need this big of a, you know. [inaudible] We have three benches in Jenison…
Rachel: Three and they have, oh my god. Holy cow. Do you know if they all work out the same time?
Mack: No, so you have like, their schedules are like totally dependent on their schedule so like, um, I think it’s also like depending on kind of like your year and stuff, but like R.J. worked out at like 5:30 in the morning every single day except for they got Wednesdays off? They get like a random day, I think it’s Wednesday, they get like Wednesdays but then every other day you have lift and then you’ll have like your practices and stuff like during the day but they don’t do anything at night… OK but what about Jenison’s weight room where every other… sport has to lift…
Rachel: I was going to say I haven’t been in their gym but like when you go in for scuba like there’s some lockers right there is, but I don’t really know what like next to it…
Mack: So, this is it [Jenison’s gym] except it, um, it’s moved around a little bit now but, yeah because we don’t have we have one less bench and then over here is like an arm machine. So, these things are moved over here so this is, you walk in over here so there’s that. And this is, that’s where you walk in from. So, you have this and then you would turn right here to see that. This is, this is also this, so this is where swimming, gymnastics, dance, cheer, track and field, and cross country don’t have to lift but some kids do, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s basketball, um, rowing, baseball, softball, volleyball we all lift in here. See like, and then some days like every team, that’s why it’s like an hour, because every team will have its own like weight time, so like when we’re in there it’s, but then obviously, some people have different schedules so they have to be scheduled at a random time. But like on Fridays when it’s, when dance is in there, because dance has lift noon to one on Fridays, there was a time where, and I don’t know if this is because of breaks or what happened because it’s normally not like this, but there was a time, um I wasn’t there Alexandria was so she told me all of dance was in there, besides like the few of us that lift with cheer, all of baseball, half of volleyball, and then there was like another team that was in there too it was like gymnastics or something. So it’s like you literally have to stand in line and wait for like a machine because I mean you can see there’s only one-two-three-four-five benches but see they’re set up differently so like those ones obviously you can bench press on but this one’s for like RDLs or like something else just based off where the bar is. We only have four leg presses, four squat racks, only two leg curls, two neck machines and then there’s the football team… And they don’t even all lift at the same time! Isn’t that crazy?
[Jenison Field House Workout Facility]3 [Duffy Workout Facility]4
It is clear that the attention given to football and basketball far outweigh the other sports. Talking with my friends and classmates about this subject, many have said that part of the reason for the special treatment stems from the amount of revenue football and basketball bring in, which is an important point to make. Yet the reason that these specific sports are the sports that gets the attention and therefore make money for MSU is the question I sought to answer.
This idea that people “fan-girl” over football and basketball and there isn’t that kind of fandom over women’s sports seems to be engrained in society and even though Title IX has allowed women’s sports to gain in popularity, it is nowhere near the level men’s sports are.
The only issue I came across was the ethics behind quoting those intoxicated or those that were not able to sign a consent form at sporting events. For most, I was able to get their verbal consent, but it was still difficult speaking with those at the games.
Concluding Thoughts and Significance
To conclude, this study is far from over for me. I have found that the root of the gender dynamics we see in college sports stems from pop culture and media. It seems as though there is a sort of “trickle down” effect for these social concepts. At the college level, there is certainly awareness of the social perspective of sports, but not on an individual level. I am very passionate about the subject of gender and so my bias, as much as I tried to keep them objective, has shown though in this study. I think I still was able to represent my subjects correctly and present the material in a way so that the reader can make their own assumptions.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
I would like to thank the MSU Dance Team for their contribution and the various sports fans I came across. I would also like to thank my friends with whom I pestered with this subject for the past eight months. I would also like to thank my classmates for putting up with me! This was a fantastic experience and a great hands-on class, thank you!
1“Title Ix Info.” TitleIX.info – Title IX Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
2“Title IX.” Title IX | CRT | Department of Justice. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
3Jenison Field House Weight Room. 2012. East Lansing, MI. Olympic Sports: Weightlifting & Training Rooms. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.
4Michigan State University Skandalaris Football Center. N.d. East Lansing, MI. Building Innovative Solutions. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.
St. Hilaire, Kristin. 2016. “Gender Bias in College Athletics Post Title IX.” Order No. 10108075, Utica College. https://search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1793406440?accountid=12598.
[Photo of one football game at the end of the game. Most people would leave before the game ended]