Liberty University Athletic Director Jeff Barber announced Tuesday that Liberty’s wrestling program would be reclassified as a club sport, due to the institutional decision to move toward the proportionality method of meeting the federal gender equity regulations known as Title IX.
This particular method of gender equity regulations calls for university athletic programs to allow female athletes the same opportunities as males in forms of proportional funding and participation.
According to the proportionality method of Title IX, the ratio of males to females in the student body must equal the ratio of male to female student athletics. Liberty’s student body is made up of 52 percent female students and 48 percent male students. This means that 52 percent of the athletics participation opportunities must be those of female student-athletes.
Over the last few years, Liberty has increased their female participation figures by adding three women’s programs, swimming in 2009, lacrosse in 2010 and field hockeyin 2011, which will begin play in the fall.
By adding these three sports in the last three years, Liberty has met Title IX requirements through the other two methods of Title IX: meeting the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex and historically adding sports to the underrepresented sex.
“By adding these sports, we are in compliance with Title IX, but if we do not move towards the proportionality method, we will have to continue to add more women’s sports programs,” Barber said. “So if we stay where we are, we’re adding sports every two to three years and that is not something we wanted to continue to do.”
After carefully reviewing the University’s current methods of fulfilling Title IX, Barber and the University decided that working toward proportionality was the best choice for Liberty.
“We chose to move toward proportionality because we didn’t want to have to keep adding sports that would end up costing the University an unbelievable amount of money over the years,” Barber said. “And its also in perpetuity, we would have to do it forever. Once we would get to potentially 28 sports (total), we would have to keep them all to keep the 52-to-48 percent proportionality.”
As a result of the move toward proportionality, Liberty needs to remove 75 male athletes from the program. According to Barber, the two avenues to assist in doing this are dropping a male sport with a larger roster number, and to reduce the roster sizes of each of the remaining 10 men’s programs.
Liberty has five men’s programs with large roster numbers, which are football, soccer, track and field, baseball and wrestling. In order to begin the move toward removing 75 male athletes, the athletic program decided to reclassify the wrestling program to a club sport. Wrestling had 39 male athletes on its roster.
“We chose wrestling because they are not in the Big South conference,” Barber said. “That’s really the only thing that separated them from any of the other large roster sports.”
Wrestling was not in the Big South conference because the sport was not offered as a part of the conference competition. Liberty had previously attempted to add wrestling to the Big South a few years ago, but the interest among Big South schools was not there.
Barber said that he and the University have received criticism for reclassifying the program, but that as a Christian institution, they were compelled to peacefully comply to authority.
“People have said to us, ‘Why didn’t you fight Title IX?’” Barber said. “Well, this is a federal law and Romans 13:1 says to submit to government authority.”
Barber said that scholarships will be fulfilled for the remainder of each wrestler’s time at Liberty, and that the athletes can transfer and be immediately eligible to compete. Wrestling will begin competition in club sports in the fall.
On flamefans.com, a community forum dedicated to Liberty Athletics, Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. addressed concerns from fans and also expressed his remorse.
“I am heartbroken about the impact this decision will have on the team members and so many others,” Falwell said.
Barber expressed his sincere apologies to everyone affected by the reclassification of wrestling.
“It’s been a very painful thing for all of us involved,” Barber said. “We understand that it’s been difficult for the wrestling community. Our hearts go out to them, and I pray for them everyday. The last day I live, this will still hurt.”
The University hopes to be fulfilling proportionality in the next three to five years.