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Ryan: Why Brown Women’s Golf lost its varsity status

Brown student-athlete and former golfer Amanda Levy ’23 recently published an op-ed titled “The Hidden Attack on Gender Equity in College Athletics” on the website Business of College Sports. In the article, Levy describes the transition of several varsity sports teams to club status at Brown. Her central premise is that Brown doesn’t care about women’s sports, diversity, inclusion or Title IX. This is certainly a powerful accusation, and no one wants to be on the wrong side of these issues.  

Based on the tone of Levy’s op-ed, the decision to demote certain varsity teams hurt many people’s feelings, and this issue is no doubt a difficult one. However, the article looks at the issue from a narrow lens, as there are other factors that should be considered to provide more context. This op-ed attempts to give more context by providing specific data, facts and insights which may offer more understanding of why the administration likely demoted women’s golf based on diversity and the competitiveness of the program.

First, let me be clear — this article is not a defense of the actions of Brown University. We must all acknowledge that the language used in its emails on this matter is indefensible and shocking coming from the administrators of an institution of higher learning who are entrusted with shaping the future of young people. This situation provides a great opportunity for students to learn an important truth: Adults do not always do the right thing. What matters is that you treat people with respect, integrity and compassion. It is sad that this needs addressing.   

However, before we rush to judgement, let's look at the broader context of Brown's decision. To be compliant with the NCAA rules and Title IX, Brown University must have at least 14 teams, seven men’s teams and seven women’s teams. They must also mirror the gender distribution on campus, which is essentially 50-50. Even after the elimination of some sports, which consisted of more men’s teams than women’s, Brown has claimed (and I agree) that they are in compliance with NCAA bylaws and Title IX.  

Other factors may have influenced Brown's decision. For example, take competitiveness; over the past 20 years, women’s golf has become increasingly competitive. In 2020, the best teams and players routinely shoot under par. But, the improvements have come with a cost; many schools now make academic accommodations for athletes in the recruitment process. It is not hard to imagine that lower academic standards result in a bigger pool of professionally qualified candidates. 

In the Ivy League, however, each sports team uses a complicated Academic Index for admissions for potential student athletes. This Index varies not only between individual sports, but also between each school. At Brown, from my observations, the academic standards for women’s golf are amongst the highest requirements for student athletes. This privileges an exceedingly small group of potential recruits with access to the best education, often excluding historically underrepresented groups and reducing the chance that the team can be a vehicle for increased diversity. 

Being handcuffed by high academic standards has also led Brown Women's Golf to fall behind in recruiting new, promising talent, and it shows. During their last ever tournament, they finished 80+ shots over 3 rounds behind the eventual winner, University of South Florida. At the time, USF was ranked about 90th in the country out of approximately 250 Division I women's teams. USF aside, how does Brown compare to the other Ivy League schools? Dartmouth, which was statistically the next worst Ivy League team, was ranked nearly 75 spots ahead at #140, while the best of the League features several teams in the top 100, led by University of Pennsylvania which ranked #68.

It is important to note that by demoting the team to club status, Brown has cut funding to women’s golf, but it has not eliminated the opportunity for women to play entirely. Currently, Brown has offered the women to play in a club team. This means that players can demonstrate their talents in the highly competitive national organization known as National Collegiate Club Golf Association, which is owned by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America. The organization offers more than 100 events, including a national championship. 

This has indeed been a difficult year for universities and college athletics. School administrators have had to make hard choices based on a broad range of factors, such as the most effective uses of their money and which athletic teams they will be able to support. Unable to compete in the world of high-stakes athletics, women’s golf unfortunately had to be cut. While not everyone may support this action, it should not come as a complete surprise. Brown Women’s Golf was not competitive and lacked diversity, and for these reasons the team was eliminated.

Brendan Ryan is a paid golf consultant and wrote in a Sept. 16 email to The Herald that he was involved in students including Amanda Levy '23 attending Brown and joining the University's golf team. He can be reached at brendanmryan@yahoo.com. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Note: Due to an editing error, Ryan's byline was not added to the bottom of this opinion before publication. The Herald regrets the error.

Clarification: Ryan followed up with The Herald to specify that it is more accurate to say he was "involved in" than "responsible for" students including Amanda Levy '23 attending Brown and joining the University's golf team. His byline has been updated to reflect the change.



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