Update: The MIAA reversed its decision, after hearing concerns, and plans to hold both a boys’ and a girls’ tournament indefinitely.
Last month, the Massachusetts Inerscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) finally came to a decision in the long-simmering debate about boys participating on girls’ swim teams. The debate stemmed from a 1979 Massachusetts State Supreme Court decision that if only a single gender was offered for a sport during a certain season, then both males and females must be allowed to participate in that sport.
MIAA had a winter season for both boys and girls, but they only offered a girls’ championship in the fall, leading to girls racing boys for Sectional and State Championships at the high school level.
The decision was two-fold. First, for the next three years, a boys fall championship would be held parallel to the girls, and there would be two-seasons for each. That part of the decision was good.
Then there was the other part. In the 2015-2016 season, the MIAA would completely eliminate the fall season, and both genders would be forced into the winter season.
That’s where the sticking point came in.
Massachussetts is extremely-limited in pool-space as compared to other states (like Florida, Texas, and California), where there’s enough pool time to swim everyone at the same time. Other states have chosen instead the solution of putting one season in the fall and the other in the spring; however in Massachussetts, many schools only offer swimming for girls. That means that if those schools only offer fall swimming, then the boys have no choice but to compete at the girls’ championship.
Simply holding both a male and female championship in each season is a logical solution – adding in an extra heat at each meet to cater to the boys seems like not-too-much of a burden (or even swimming the races together, and simply awarding separate titles), though we don’t know at that point how many of the “winter” co-ed teams would become “fall” co-ed teams.
But to eliminate the fall season altogether could prove disastrous for high school swimming in the state, based on simple economics.
Moving the full high school swimming programs to one season could overtax the pools that exist, which would mean that either the high school programs, or the local programs (club, rec, adult lap swim, Special Olympics, etc.), would suffer due to a lack of pool time.
Further, the economics of operating a pool would become much more difficult. Sure, the pools would be booked to max-capacity for that winter season, but this would cause other programs to possibly shut down or seek alternative arrangements, which would eliminate revenue for the existing pools for the rest of the year. This would inevitably lead, in-turn, to more program elimination.
A group of parents from Newton Massachussetts has made just this argument, including signing a petition to seek a better solution to the problem.
I think it would be safe to assume, at this point, that the debate has not ended, and that there will be much more to come on the front of co-ed sports and Massachussetts High School swimming. This is yet another case of unintended consequences of well-meaning gender-equity rules in scholastic sports. Without a better solution, we could be seeing the entire high school swimming system in that state marching towards its death.