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Debate rages on over Title IX as it turns XXX

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

Thirty years after becoming law, Title IX is still stirring the landscape of college sports.

The measure, which mandated gender equity for institutions receiving federal funds, is the subject of widespread debate, applauded on some fronts and attacked on others.

Women's sports has become big time, with professional leagues in basketball and soccer and scores of scholarships that can be traced directly to the Education Amendments Act that became law on June 23, 1972.

The progress has been painstaking.

According to the Women's Sports Foundation, fully 80 percent of the nation's schools and colleges still have not complied with some parts of the law. The 1999-2000 NCAA gender equity report said male athletes receive $133 million more in athletic scholarships than female athletes. Last week, the National Women's Law Center released a study identifying 30 colleges and universities with a total gap of $6.5 million in athletic scholarships between women and men.

Among those schools was the University of Miami, defending national champions in football and baseball, which, according to the NWLC study, has the largest difference ($6,545) between average scholarships for men and women, even though it has more women than men involved in sports.

The flip side of those numbers is that since Title IX passed, female high school athletic participation has increased by 847 percent. Where just one in 27 high school girls played varsity sports in 1972, that ratio was one in every 2.5 in 2001.

There are some, however, who claim the law has sounded the death knell for a number of men's programs, in a sort of reverse discrimination.

The College Sports Council, representing coaches of wrestling, track, diving and gymnastics programs, filed last week for a summary judgment in its suit against the Department of Education. The suit asserts that Title IX has deteriorated into a quota system.

''We are for Title IX,'' said Leo Kocher, wrestling coach at the University of Chicago and president of the CSC. ''We oppose its quota aspects.''

In a 1979 interpretation of Title IX by the Carter administration, one of the measures for showing compliance required that the number of men and women athletes be proportional to the institution's enrollment. That proportionality test has led to problems, according to Kocher.

''Marquette University wrestling has covered its entire budget for the last 10 years by fund-raising after being threatened with being dropped in 1991,'' Kocher said. ''Last year, they were told the program was being cut for gender equity. You hear arguments about limited funds and football taking up so much of budgets. Marquette has no football, and wrestling was paying its own way.''

Marquette wrestling is not an isolated example. According to CSC, the sport has lost 50 percent of its programs. Only 30 men's gymnastics programs remain in place. Bowling Green recently cut track, Howard University dropped both baseball and wrestling, and Miami is dropping men's swimming and diving.

''It is time to restore basic fairness to Title IX,'' said Mike Moyer, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. ''Nowhere else in American life would we tolerate discrimination or quotas.''

So is Title IX to blame for the cutbacks?

Not according to Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. She is particularly upset by the wrestling coaches who allege that Title IX has forced their sport to shrink.

''From 1984-88, Title IX did not apply to intercollegiate athletics,'' she said. ''The law prohibits discrimination in any activity receiving federal funds. The Supreme Court bought the argument that the law covered only the parts of schools that got earmarked federal funds, and sports was not included.

''It wasn't until the Civil Rights Restoration Act passed over President Reagan's veto in 1988 that sports was covered again. During those four years, from 1984-88, 53 wrestling programs were dropped. Over the next 12 years, when Title IX again covered sports, 56 wrestling programs were dropped.

''That means when Title IX was not in effect, almost three times as many wrestling teams were cut as when it was in effect. So don't blame that on Title IX,'' she said.

As for proportionality, which calls for athletic opportunities for men and women to match male and female enrollment, Greenberger argues the wrestling community is setting up a straw man.

There are three prongs in the Title IX law that test for adherence. Schools can comply by satisfying any of them -- making steady progress to increase participation opportunities for women, accommodating interests of female students, or finally, proportionality.

So, Greenberger said, programs may be cut for any number of reasons, but Title IX isn't one of them.

''One of the things that is upsetting,'' she said, ''is that with men's budgets so much larger and with 72 percent of athletic budgets going to football and basketball, that the wrestlers thought to go after the small slice of the pie we have fought so hard to get.''

The Justice Department's initial response to the wrestlers was a motion to dismiss the suit, saying the ones who ought to be sued are the individual schools dropping the sport.

Pro soccer star Julie Foudy, president of the Women's Sports Foundation, was disappointed with that, claiming it demonstrated a lack of commitment by the Bush administration to fully support Title IX.

''The administration is not sending a clear message that Title IX is valid and legal and women are entitled to full and equal rights to participate in federally funded education programs and activities,'' Foudy said. ''We believe that the Wrestling Coaches Association's legal action has no merit, whether it files against the government or institutions of higher education.''

Billie Jean King, a cornerstone in women's sports, has been one of Title IX's most vigilant defenders.

''Complying with Title IX does not mean you have to force schools to eliminate men's sports programs,'' King said earlier this month. ''It does require schools to exercise fiscal responsibility and support each sport with a piece of the budgetary pie. We talking about financial responsibility, not weakening civil rights laws.

''Whether it's for math, science, drama or athletics, families expect Title IX legislation to provide protection and equal educational opportunities for their sons and their daughters.''

Opponents such as Jessica Gavora, author of ''Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX,'' believe the law has gone too far, especially with its impact on minor men's sports.

''It is in need of reform to restore its original intent,'' she said. ''What's at issue with Title IX is the body count quota. Boys are being penalized.''

Olympic gold medal swimmer Nancy Hogshead, now a professor of law, believes schools have ignored a simple solution. ''If they had increased women's budgets 2 or 3 percent a year for 30 years, we'd be fine,'' she said. ''They can't run and blame that on Title IX.''

Gavora's criticism of Title IX is a matter of concern for the law's defenders because she is a policy adviser for Attorney General John Ashcroft. Their concern is misplaced, according to Gavora. ''Alas, I don't work on this issue in any way,'' she said.

Barbara Hedges, athletic director at the University of Washington, can offer some perspective on the impact of Title IX. She was hired as associate athletic director at USC in 1973, shortly after the law passed. Her responsibility was USC's nine women's sports.

''The entire women's program budget was $17,000 and I may be stretching that,'' Hedges said. ''There were no full-time coaches and no scholarships, which was very typical of women's programs at that time.

''I remember a young volleyball player at USC who, while playing a match, sprained her ankle. She quickly got off the court and went to the locker room without a trainer because there was no trainer. She put her foot in a toilet bowl, flushed the toilet so that water could run over her ankle and reduce the swelling. She came back to the match and continued playing.''

At the time, female athletes were an anomaly. According to the NCAA, there were just under 30,000 women involved in intercollegiate athletics then, compared with more than 170,000 men. The numbers today are nearly 151,000 women and 209,000 men. Hedges said Title IX deserves much of the credit.

''Could we have seen the dramatic change in opportunities for women in athletics over the last 30 years without the passage of Title IX?'' she said. ''My answer to that question is absolutely not.''



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