Don't tamper with Title IX

February 03, 2003|By Birch Bayh

WASHINGTON - A set of proposals made last week by a commission created to ensure gender equality in school athletics would scuttle the mandate by the federal program called Title IX to eliminate such discrimination and freeze a discriminatory standard into the system.

President Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige must prevent these undemocratic and unlawful proposals from being implemented.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is the landmark legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools, whether in academics or athletics.

Mr. Paige last year empowered the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics to collect data and hold public meetings to determine whether standards for enforcement should be revised and whether steps could be taken to "improve the effectiveness of Title IX and ... build upon the extraordinary progress that has resulted from its passage 30 years ago."

Yet in a stunning departure, the commission put forth proposals at its final meeting Wednesday that would seriously weaken the law.

The most drastic would allow compliance with Title IX if a school allotted only 47 percent of its sports participation to female athletes, despite the fact that more than 53 percent of today's students are women. This formula would annually deny 305,000 high school girls and 50,000 college women the chance to participate in athletic programs. It would also eliminate $122 million in annual scholarships, often the only means of a college education for many female athletes.

Ten of the 15 commissioners are from NCAA Division I-A schools with large men's football and basketball programs. There are no representatives of Division II or III colleges, junior colleges or high school athletic programs, all of which have markedly different interests than Division I-A schools and don't rely on gate receipts for their programs.

The commission was captured by a process that prohibited it from hearing all of the information necessary to gain a complete picture of Title IX. Witnesses were weighted 2-1 against Title IX.

Lacking an appreciation for how Title IX has functioned successfully for 30 years, individual commissioners have made recommendations directed at fixing problems that exist in their own athletic programs. They are embarking on a crusade to "fix" the law rather than concentrating on what needs to be done at schools yet to achieve compliance.

The noisiest protesters of Title IX are those affiliated with men's collegiate wrestling and other critics who allege that Title IX imposes quotas and takes slots away from men and gives them to women. It does not. A school can comply with Title IX by demonstrating:

That the percentage of male and female athletes is about the same as the percentage in the student body.

That the school has a history of expanding opportunities for women.

That the school is meeting its female students' interests and abilities, even if it does not provide equal sports opportunities.

When reviewing the years 1994 through 1998, the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights found that two-thirds of schools used the second and third approaches to comply with Title IX.

Most importantly, eight federal appellate courts have considered the quota argument and rejected it. The critics' assertions have no legal basis.

As far as the charge that men are losing slots to women, a 2001 report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, proves otherwise. From the 1981-82 school year to the 1998-99 school year, the report said, colleges terminated 2,648 team slots for wrestlers, and other sports also have suffered losses. But during that same period, the GAO found that colleges actually added 7,199 men's slots in football, 5,452 in baseball, 1,932 in soccer and 1,552 in basketball, producing a 5 percent increase overall for men's sports.

One sympathizes with the plight of our wrestlers, but the reality is that they are competing not with women athletes but with the most popular men's sports.

Progress for female athletes has been remarkable since Title IX's enactment. Before 1972, less than 10 percent of college athletes were women. Today, that number is 42 percent, with more than 150,000 college-level women participating in sports. In high schools, 2.78 million girls participate in sports, a tenfold increase since 1971.

At the same time, Division I-A schools spend twice as much on men's sports and recruitment as they do on women's, even though women make up 53 percent of the students at those schools. It is clear that more, not less, needs to be done to achieve Title IX's mandate of equal opportunity for women in school athletics.

Our nation has cheered its female athletes in the Women's National Basketball Association and watched them win soccer's World Cup and an unprecedented number of Olympic medals and break records in NCAA championship basketball. And yet female athletes still lag far behind their male counterparts, receiving just one-third of the resources.

Title IX must not be weakened. Our nation must remain committed to the ideal that our daughters as well as our sons have equal opportunity in their education, both in the classroom and on the playing field. The commission's recommendations could make this impossible.

Birch Bayh, a Democratic U.S. senator from 1962 to 1980, authored Title IX legislation in the Senate. He currently is a partner in the Washington office of a Baltimore law firm.

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