OT: The gender of Butler’s intramural sports

Butler intramurals continue to grow and bounce back after their COVID-era hiatus. Photo by Jada Gangazha.


Depending on student interest in a particular sport, there can be up to three options for intramural leagues: men’s, women’s or a co-rec league in which both genders play together. Especially if there is not enough interest to have a respective men’s or women’s team, there would be a co-rec league option. For example, if there wasn’t enough interest in a women’s league for basketball, those looking to play would be able to join the co-rec league. The only written difference between a co-rec league and a single-gender league is one additional rule at the bottom of the rule book for that sport.

This small section indicates the maximum number of male and female players to be on the court at a given time. For co-rec basketball, the paragraph at the bottom of the rulebook reads, “Five players constitute a team. A combination of two men and three women shall be on the floor during games. Teams must have a minimum of three players and cannot exceed the above gender maximums.” 

The co-rec modifications section of the soccer rule book is similar, “The number of players will be seven (maximum four males and three females or vice versa). There is no minimum gender requirement to start a game (i.e. you can start with 4 males or 4 females).” 

These short and succinct rules are really the only regulation that differentiates a co-rec league from a single-gender league. However, the gender requirements aren’t always observed or enforced. 

Madeline McElroy is a sophomore marketing major who has recent experience with co-rec intramural sports, having played in a short futsal tournament in the past month. She agreed that the co-rec rules were a bit difficult to enforce. 

“A lot of teams have struggled to get girls [to play], so it’s been a lot of negotiating and not a lot of set rules [about] how people are going to play without enough girls,” McElroy said. 

McElroy noted one game in particular where the other team showed up with no women at all. While McElroy wasn’t a part of the pre-game discussions, she acknowledged that her team likely agreed to some compromises so they could still play. 

“We agreed, I guess, that they would play with one player down,” McElroy said. “So [the other team] played with five people — five guys. And we played with six people, and I think we had at least two girls on the court the whole time.” 

This type of solution is fairly consistent across intramural leagues. If a team does not meet the required number of players, then they will play with the number of players they have who can meet the gender requirement. For example, in futsal, there are seven players on the court, so the ratio of genders on the court must be no less than five to two according to assistant director of sports programs, Nick Ames. Teams can have two females and five males, or they can have two males and five females. However, neither team can play with more than five people of the same gender. 

Therefore, if a team shows up with seven men and no women on their team, they would fulfill the ratio as best as possible. In the case of futsal, the team would likely play down two players because, according to the gender requirements for co-rec futsal, the team cannot exceed five men on the court at one time. 

However, the solution to this pervasive issue depends on the other team’s preference. Generally, if one team cannot meet the required gender ratio, the two teams will speak before the game about their preferred course of action. If the opposing team is comfortable playing a team with six men instead of just five, then this would be permitted. According to Ames, if the opposing team wanted the other to forfeit the game instead, the request would be taken into consideration. Really, the conversation is guided by the players. Ames wants all parties to feel comfortable playing, so he will generally honor whatever decision the two teams agree upon. 

Hannah Bailey is a sophomore pharmacy student who is involved in a myriad of intramural and club sports on campus. She has been on the club volleyball team since her first semester at Butler, and she has played intramural soccer, futsal and Kan Jam as well. 

Bailey has noticed these conversations take place during her time in intramural sports. Having played multiple intramural sports, she has seen that the enforcement of co-rec rules heavily depends on the types of leagues available to teams. Bailey also noticed that co-rec rules were more enforced when she played outdoor soccer than when she played futsal. 

“For soccer outside, just because I think the option was there for the men’s and women’s [leagues], co-rec was enforced more,” Bailey said. “They had the option if you were an all-men’s team, you [could] go play in that division.” 

Bailey’s words echo Ames’. In order to determine the type of leagues — co-rec, women’s or men’s —  that will be offered for each sport, Ames looks at each genders’ interest in a particular sport. 

“We try to see how the sports have been participating in the past,” Ames said. “Some have much higher participation, some was much lower. We want the leagues to exist, so we try to make it work out.” 

However, the liberal enforcement of gender requirements can threaten players’ comfort levels in a particular game considering the styles of play are very different across genders. 

Having played volleyball for years, Bailey agrees that men’s and women’s sports are played very differently. She notices this especially with particular technical adjustments made between men’s and women’s sports. 

“It’s not that men’s sports are better or stronger or anything,” Bailey said. “They’re just different games. I’m thinking of it from volleyball, men’s and women’s volleyball is a completely different game. [Men] play with a higher net because they’re generally taller. I think they’re just different games.” 

Bailey also cited the difference in basketball sizes between men’s and women’s basketball. Bailey explains that while this doesn’t indicate that any one sport is better than another, it can make things a bit difficult when trying to merge the two styles of play together. Which rules do you stick to? Should the rules be combined or should one set of rules prevail? The technical combination of genders in sports alone can quickly become tedious. 

McElroy noticed a similar issue with combining styles of play in co-rec sports. McElroy has played indoor and outdoor soccer on primarily all-women’s teams, but she has played against all-men’s teams before. She recalled this experience while considering the differences in play between men’s and women’s soccer. 

“Guys tend to be, not in a negative way, but a little more technical,” McElroy said. “They work on individual skills. Versus girls, it’s more of a passing game, so I think co-rec is interesting because you’re blending those two types together. So when there are no girls [on the field], it changes that dramatically … When we played an all-guys team, it got very heated and very intense [with] a lot of masculine energy and a lot of negative energy which is kind of a bummer because that’s not what I want personally.” 

Despite their awareness of the differences between genders in sports, both Bailey and McElroy agreed that combining styles of play can be fun and exciting. Truly, their concerns only apply to times when teams do not follow the required gender ratios and one gender’s style of play overpowers the other. 

“I’m very competitive, don’t get me wrong,” McElroy said. “Girls are very competitive, but it’s just very different. It was a lot more intense than it needed to be.” 

Players should not have to question what kind of game they will play — a game of intense and excessive competition or a lighthearted and easygoing game. Ultimately, it comes down to the comfort of the players involved. If all players are comfortable with the competitive energy that comes from playing a team of all men, then they should be able to play this way. 

However, if a player anxiously notices that a team they believed would have at least two women instead has none, they should not be made to spend a whole game uncomfortably playing on a male-dominated court. Most games will be played with a compromise between the teams even if one team does not quite meet gender requirements. When this is the standard, people who might be nervous to play a team made up of entirely one gender would likely still feel pressured to do so. 

The enforcement of gender rules also brings into question the comfortability of nonbinary people who want to play intramural sports. They should never have to choose one gender to be able to play a light-hearted recreational game. 

Luckily, Ames has already considered this scenario.

“That’s one thing that I noticed we don’t have a policy [for], and it’s something that is on my mind,” Ames said. “I do know that if somebody wants to play, I am going to help them play.” 

Ames cited one particular scenario in which a player’s gender identity did not fit within the constraints of the co-rec dodgeball rules. In response to this player’s discomfort, Ames made the co-rec dodgeball league an “open league” which essentially meant anyone could join, removing the gender requirement altogether. 

Ames has not experienced this situation in a more traditional sport like basketball or soccer, but he does insist that if anyone wants to play a sport, he will find a way for them to play. Although Ames did not express a specific rule change or addition to the rule book to accommodate nonbinary individuals, he seems eager to pivot and adjust rules so any student can play. 

It is Ames’ hope that as intramural sports continue to grow and bounce back after their brief COVID-era hiatus, there will be a men’s, women’s and co-rec option for every sport. This way, each student can choose a league in which they feel most comfortable playing. 

As Ames said, intramural sports are truly just about playing. It is a low-stakes environment in which the highest thing at stake is an intramural champion t-shirt. Taking each game on a case-by-case basis is truly the only solution that ensures all students can play while still promoting a sense of fairness with every game. Ultimately, intramural sports are supposed to be fun, and they are supposed to promote a sense of friendly competition and community. 

“I wouldn’t have met some of the people on the team if we didn’t get to play co-rec,” Bailey said. “I do think it’s fun. And yeah, the rules are there for a reason, but it makes it fun in the end.” 


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