Colleges twist Title IX to cut back on men's sports

April 02, 2000|By Susan Reimer

My teen-age son is a wrestler and my daughter plays basketball, and the same law that created the chance for her to play may eliminate the opportunity for him.

I don't have any illusions about college coaches wooing my children for their athletic gifts, but there are plenty of schools where Jessica might play basketball, while college wrestling programs are disappearing.

And the reason is Title IX, the 1972 law that mandated equal opportunity for men and women, boys and girls in education.

Title IX was proposed as a remedy for imbalances in admissions and in faculty positions. But it was quickly seen to be applicable to extracurricular activities.

At that moment, parents were deciding that their daughters also deserved to reap the benefits of physical activity and athletic competition, and Title IX was enthusiastically applied to sports.

"I was quite taken with how quickly the sports community seized upon the relevance of the act," says U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the bill's author. Title IX was born of her experience with medical schools, which refused to consider her application because she was a woman.

But somehow, Title IX, which began as a means to achieve equal opportunity, came to mean equal numbers, and any school that thought otherwise found itself on the losing side in court.

Then the bills came due. Faced with increased costs and declining revenues, colleges and universities, which had so eagerly added women's sports programs, began to cut men's programs in order to keep their scholarship numbers in line. It was easier than, say, trimming the number of assistant football coaches.

The so-called nonrevenue sports were most vulnerable to cuts, and wrestling is now going the way of swimming and diving, men's gymnastics and golf. Forty-three college wrestling programs have been cut since 1993. Meanwhile, women's crew teams are showing up in bizarre locations such as Kansas.

Eleanor Smeal, head of Feminist Majority, which is holding its convention here this weekend, says Title IX was never intended to cause pain.

"They want it to hurt so that everyone will blame Title IX," she says. "We foresaw this fight and it is scary how it has played out exactly."

"It was never intended to mean equal numbers or equal money," says Mink. "And it was never a matter of creating a whole program because you had one woman applicant. Even today, the meaning is totally misconstrued."

The drafters of this landmark legislation never intended that my son should have no opportunities to play sports so that my daughter might have them instead.

It doesn't make any sense to decide how many young men can play sports based on how many young women play. Nor does it make sense to replace wrestling, which is growing on every level and routinely sells out its national championships, with women's crew, which has virtually no constituency.

Former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable, a high school, college and Olympic champion, has four daughters, and he recently wrote to USA Today praising Title IX for the chance to see his 17-year-old swim and run in state high school championship meets.

If Iowa had been Brigham Young or Boston College or Miami of Ohio, that fatherly joy might have cost Gable his job. And Title IX was never intended to do that.

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