Title IX And The Iowa Hawkeyes Adding Women's Wrestling

The University of Iowa is set to become the first school from a Power Five conference to activate a women’s wrestling program, with the goal of starting competition in the 2023-2024 season. Fitting that it is the fabled Hawkeyes that will write yet another chapter in the history of collegiate wrestling, a history that reaches back to Dan Gable and Ed Banach and persists now through the Brands brothers and Spencer Lee. Iowa will join the 100 colleges and universities that have women’s wrestling programs, seven of which are in the Hawkeye State already.

The news out of Iowa City comes as recent star-making Olympic performances from women’s wrestlers like Helen Maroulis and Tamyra Mensah-Stock are still in the forefront of our minds. Women’s wrestling is having a moment, to be sure.

The country needs more wrestling for women and men, and the University of Iowa is delivering it.

The basic skills wrestling teaches are cross-functional in a way that is true of no other sport. Teach a police officer a good leg ride, and he’ll more safely and effectively restrain a captured criminal. Find yourself in a bar scrap and a duck-under to an arm-trap will keep your face bruise-free and your wife less worried. Get thrown from your bike after hitting a rock and a somersault that distributes landing impact may save you from serious injury. A wrestling background would also help women fend off a would-be sexual assailant.

I have a young son and daughter. God willing, they will both take to wrestling.

But the value of wrestling goes beyond such practical applications like the ones just mentioned. Society needs more wrestling because the sport teaches certain positive values the prevailing culture has pushed to the margins.

In a culture that tells you your memberships to collective groups will determine your life outcomes, the outcome of a wrestling match is entirely in the hands of the individual. As the government lures you into accepting more and more entitlement giveaways, wrestling gives you only the value of your sweat and dedication. Technique born of repetition will get you further in wrestling than just natural talent will. And while the public health apparatus limits your freedoms in the name of your own safety, it is the physical fitness wrestling requires that will best protect you.

More wrestling is good, and more wrestling is what we are getting. But the right thing can come for the wrong reason.

The University of Iowa didn’t add a women’s wrestling program exclusively for the reasons I mentioned above or because interest in the sport is surging. They added a women’s wrestling program in part to fulfill a gender quota stemming from a Title IX noncompliance lawsuit.

Title IX requires that the number of men and women participating in sports for a university be proportional to the gender distribution of the broader student body. And when Iowa cut four sports in 2020 -- men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, and women’s swimming and diving -- a group of women from the swimming and diving team sued the university citing Title IX noncompliance.

The end result of those proceedings was the restoration of women’s swimming and diving, as well as the addition of women’s wrestling. As for men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, and men’s swimming and diving, no such luck. Those programs are no longer listed on Iowa's athletics website.

Title IX giveth and Title IX taketh away.

The proliferation of women’s collegiate wrestling may make men’s wrestling less likely to be nixed by Title IX. And again, more wrestling is good. But you can’t help but wonder whether the gender quota squeeze that has been on wrestling for so long will just get passed on down the line to another men’s sport.

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Ethan covers digital media and popular culture after spending nearly a decade in corporate search engine marketing and digital product management