Ivies itch for Title IX compliance, but numbers don't add up

July 13, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

Proportionality. That's the word we Knights of the Keyboard (Ted Williams' description) and Fourth Estate denizens yearning to be politically correct in all matters, foreign and domestic, are studying today.

To be unmistakingly correct, it's actually "strict proportionality" we're seeking the meaning of, so that implementation of its dictates may be carried out without further delay, deferment or dereliction.

Title IX, which is to collegiate sports what affirmative action is to politics, is thrashing up the seas again and, at the center of the waterspout, is none other than an Ivy League school, Brown University.

The Ivies, remember, aren't big on the perspiring arts. They don't give athletic scholarships. Their dodge is "aid as needed," which explains those dynamite hockey teams at Harvard, the good basketball at Penn, lacrosse at Princeton and the fine runners at Dartmouth.

It was a few years ago when Brown was detected changing the way it funded four sports, golf and water polo on the men's side, gymnastics and volleyball for women. They changed from being university-funded to donor-funded, which didn't change anything except an entry in an accounting ledger.

Anyway, female athletes had their marching orders, lawyers eager to represent them and, in March, scored a victory. A District Court judge said Brown wasn't providing sufficient "opportunities" for women to compete as it related to the percentage of the student body that women constituted.

At the start of the 1994-95 school year, Brown provided 14 sports for women, 13 for men. Football and its alleged need for 90 players throws the participation numbers out of whack but, as the school points out, "most of the women's teams have room for additional players."

The women's volleyball team, for instance, contained just half the 18 players usually found on a squad while the hockey and cross country rosters were down seven bodies apiece and lacrosse five.

Another supposed flaw the judge noted was Brown wasn't funding sports female athletes demonstrated interest and ability such as fencing, skiing, water polo and gymnastics. While it's true the athletic department wasn't picking up the tab for these sports, donations and monies from the student activities fund did provide for all of these together with men's squash, water polo, fencing and golf.

Numbers, numbers, numbers, representatives of the female athletes cried, numbers in keeping with the percentage of female undergraduates on campus (51). Maybe because it's difficult to get 48 young women to arise each morning at 5 a.m. and hustle down to Providence Harbor to practice crew, the percentage of women athletes stood at "just" 38 percent.

After 100 days of trying to figure out how to get female participation up to a figure approximating 50 percent of the total taking part in the 27 sports provided by the school, Brown came to a sad conclusion: Chip away at the number of men playing sports.

"For years," said athletic director Dave Roach, "student-athletes, coaches, faculty and administrators have talked about the benefits of competition -- teamwork, leadership, self-confidence, the drive to work hard. If that is true, why must we tell athletes on existing teams that they no longer can compete simply because their presence will throw the university's numbers out of whack? It's unfortunate and disappointing, but that is what happens when proportionality becomes a yardstick for Title IX compliance."

Uh, "strict proportionality."

Brown fielded 772 athletes last year and, to be in strict proportionality, would have to add 88 women as participants while dropping that many off men's teams. Aware male candidates were being cut off squads left and right, Brown's HTC executive VP Robert Reichley said, "Rather than providing equal opportunities to all students who are interested in intercollegiate competition, we are forced to construct a program that sacrifices equal opportunity in favor of strict proportionality."

It's ridiculous, yes, and it becomes even more so when the school came up with a plan for adding 75 female athletes, via JV competition in basketball, tennis, lacrosse, soccer and field hockey, only for the plan to be blasted by opposing attorneys.

Lead lawyer and spokeswoman Lynette Labinger said, "We don't accept the creation of opportunities at the JV level for women and at the varsity level for men as being equal." The school hopes the judge is more amenable to its plan.

Otherwise, Brown might have to make some sports mandatory for women in order to get their numbers up. "What do you mean you can't skate, Buffy, you're playing left defense in the hockey against Yale in New Haven this weekend."

Of course Brown could follow the lead of San Francisco State and scuttle the football team . . . and isn't that what a lot of people think is the goal of some Title Niners?

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