Fresno State and Boise State will play a nationally televised football game Friday night on a field that's 120 yards long and 53 1/3 wide.
But once the teams exit Bulldog Stadium, no matter who wins, the playing field won't be level.
What do I mean by that? I mean the athletic departments don't emphasize their biggest revenue-generating sport to the same degree.
Just follow the money.
All colleges and universities that receive federal tax dollars and play intercollegiate sports are required to submit an annual report to the Department of Education detailing revenues and expenses, participation numbers and coaching salaries for men's and women's teams.
For the 2011-12 academic year, Fresno State reported $11.4 million in total expenses for its men's sports teams and $7.7 million for women's teams. Meaning that for every dollar Fresno State spends on men's sports, it spends between 67 and 68 cents on women's.
Boise State reported $11.8 million in total expenses for men's sports and $4.9 million for women's. So for every dollar spent on men's sports, Boise State spends between 41 and 42 cents on women's.
Think about that. Women's sports at Fresno State get more than two-thirds of the money that men's sports do. At Boise State, it's less than half.
That's a pretty big difference. Even though both schools sponsor 11 women's sports teams and reported almost the same number of total female participants (305 for the Bulldogs, 306 for the Broncos).
What about all 12 Mountain West Conference schools?
Fresno State ranks No. 1 in women's sports spending as a percentage of men's. Only San Jose State (between 64 and 65 cents on the dollar) and Nevada (62 to 63 cents) are close.
Boise State is in a dead heat for last with New Mexico.
Break it down further. Fresno State reported $24,989 in operating expenses for each women's basketball player. Boise State reported $18,565, a difference of $6,424. Fresno State reported $12,809 in costs for each volleyball player. Boise State reported $7,817, a difference of $4,992.
Women's sports coaches are paid more at Fresno State, where head coaches average $106,354 and assistants average $47,549. At Boise State, the averages are $73,377 for head coaches and $34,141 for assistants. Significant, even when you adjust for the cost-of-living difference between California and Idaho.
So far, I've presented lots of numbers but not much in the way of context. Time to provide some.
Any discussion on gender equity starts with Title IX, the federal law that protects against discrimination. To satisfy Title IX with regard to athletics, universities aren't required to spend equally on men's and women's sports. But they do have to provide scholarships and participation opportunities proportionate to the undergraduate enrollment.
It's a key point, because women made up 57% of Fresno State's student body in 2011-12. At Boise State, it was 52% women. By this measure, Fresno State is obliged to do more for female athletes.
Each school's history must also be considered.
Since 1992, when the Office of Civil Rights picked Fresno State to be its Title IX guinea pig for the CSU system, gender discrimination has been a huge issue. More recently, two ex-coaches (Stacy Johnson-Klein and Lindy Vivas) and an ex-administrator (Diane Milutinovich) successfully sued the university for millions in damages for wrongful termination. There have been other cases, too.
At Boise State, senior associate athletic director/senior woman administrator Christina Van Tol couldn't recall any Title IX lawsuits against the university.
I phoned Van Tol mainly to see how she would react when presented with my figures showing Fresno State spent 67 cents to the dollar on women's sports compared with Boise State's 41 cents.
As you might expect, Van Tol did not appreciate my premise. But she did go out of her way to praise Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh and recently retired associate AD Betsy Mosher for their commitment to gender equity.
"Whenever we were in a meeting and a Title IX question came up, all the heads in the room turned to Betsy," Van Tol said.
That right there says a whole lot.
I asked Van Tol if she took exception to my characterizing Boise State as a football school where women's sports get the short shrift.
"I couldn't disagree more," she said. "I know that when I meet with a female student-athlete that I can look her in the eye and tell her we're trying to provide the best experience we can."
Not to doubt Van Tol's sincerity, but the numbers say otherwise.
Fresno State spent 26% of its budget on football and 28% on women's sports. Boise State spent 32% on football and 18% on women's sports.
Certainly, money doesn't equal success. (Look at New Mexico, which spent $8.1 million on football in 2011, almost as much as Boise State's $8.5 million. The Lobos went 1-11; the Broncos went 12-1.) But it does reflect your priorities and guiding principles.
Fresno State fans can be happy their university is committed to gender equity, reflected by a more egalitarian approach to athletics spending.
Or they can be angry that every dollar that goes to volleyball and women's golf isn't being spent on football.
That's up to each individual. I'm just here to point out some glaring differences between Fresno State and the school Bulldogs fans most want to beat.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.