Jury is out on effects of Title IX

December 22, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The hero and villain in the dynamic change in women's athletics is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, signed into law 20 years ago by President Nixon.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds. Most private colleges are subject to Title IX guidelines just as public colleges are because they also receive federal funding through financial aid programs such as Pell grants.

High schools and colleges were given six years to comply with Title IX's athletic regulations, and most of them moved quickly to pump money into women's athletics.

As a result, the number of girls participating in high school sports boomed from about 294,000 in 1971, the year before Title IX was enacted, to a high of a little more than 2 million in 1977. There are now about 1.9 million.

"Definitely, there are many more opportunities for girls and young women to participate in athletics," said Peggy Kellers, director of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports. "There are more opportunities for women to get scholarships. They have qualified coaches, similar kinds of facilities and uniforms that boys and men do. That's been a real plus."

But a few unexpected things happened to throw the beneficiaries of Title IX a series of curves.

First, as money began to flow into women's programs, male coaches and administrators began to apply.

Those programs became so attractive that the percentage of women who coach and run women's programs steadily declined, from 90 percent in 1972 to 48 percent in 1991, according to a study by R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, physical education professors at Brooklyn College.

"As salaries came into coaching, they became attractive to men who didn't think them attractive when they were volunteer positions," said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation.

The second thing that rendered Title IX ineffective, according to women's advocates, was a pattern of indifference by the Reagan and Bush administrations, whose Departments of Education did not aggressively pursue Title IX complaints.

In 1980, the Department of Education received 259 athletic-related Title IX complaints. The number dropped to a low of 36 in 1991.

"In 1974, there was probably more zeal than there is today," said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger. "The last two [education] departments and administrations have not been hawks in this area."

Ellen Vargyas, senior counsel at the Women's Law Center, said no punishment has been meted out to offending institutions during the past 12 years because the Office of Civil Rights in the Education Department has been "unaggressive."

"They are a significant part of the problem," said Vargyas. "OCR investigates and if they find something, they go in and negotiate assurances from the institution that it won't happen again, then based on the assurances, OCR finds no discrimination."

Locally, a two-year-old Title IX case, alleging discrimination against the girls' sports program in Baltimore City schools, is still open, said Roger Murphy, an Education Department spokesman.

The complaint -- triggered by a 1990 Evening Sun series on alleged disparities in athletic equipment, uniforms and practice times -- still is being studied with no scheduled date for resolution, Murphy said.

Women's athletics were given a major boost by the Supreme Court this past February, when it ruled in Franklin vs. Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools that damages could be awarded in Title IX cases where discrimination was intentional.

The effect is to prohibit institutions from engaging in discriminatory practices, then dragging victims of that discrimination through protracted and costly lawsuits.

Since last spring, Title IX cases have been brought against Texas, Colgate, Brown and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, seeking either to restore women's programs that have been dropped or to elevate club-level sports to varsity status.

Many women's advocates are predicting that President-elect Bill Clinton's administration will work to enforce Title IX guidelines.

"There is actually a chance that the federal government might actually get involved in enforcement," Vargyas said.

Still, despite recent developments, many of those who saw Title IX as a vehicle for change still see opportunities for the vehicle to be derailed.

"Nobody's listening to the real argument against Title IX," said Lopiano. "What they're saying is . . . 'I can justify discrimination if my reason is, 'Well, if I do that, I won't make any money.' If that's all it takes to let somebody justify racism or sexism, we are in deep, deep trouble."

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