Since football is such an anomaly, and since it supports the other sports at many schools, why not eliminate it from the formula and then match the numbers between men and women?

Lonnie Wheeler

As the dad for two daughters — we’ll leave my son out of this — Title IX has enriched my last dozen years with two hobbies: driving to practices and driving to games. Then there’s the watching, the coaching, the thinking-about and the daily attention to what I regard as opportunity-providing and my wife would call obsessive scheming.

When the sports compulsion collides with overzealous parenting, I can always purport to do this in the interest of broadening my children’s experience. For all the development in the territory of women’s athletics during the past 30 years, much of it remains a frontier.

Already, though — of this, there can be no doubt that — Title IX, in cahoots with basketball and soccer and you-name-it, has promoted opportunity, enhanced self-esteem and provided an unquantifiable measure of competitive delight for a generation of females whose predecessors enjoyed little of the above, in the sporting sense.

It has produced better-prepared citizens, better-prepared professionals and better-prepared moms. It has fostered a healthier, better-balanced society.

Of course, this would be hard to prove by the guys who would have wrestled for Miami before the program was cut, or played tennis or soccer there. You know how it goes: When a door opens for a girl with a crossover dribble, another one slams in the face of a wrestler.

For the gender it was aimed at, Title IX has succeeded fabulously so far. But there has been collateral damage, and now the Bush administration is attempting to clean it up with policy.

A national commission is studying Title IX with reform in view, and the Washington Post has reported its proposals. Under one of them, a college would no longer be bound to award athletic scholarships to women in a proportion that conforms to the makeup of the student body.

This is by no means a doomsday scenario for the lady jocks. Any institution that receives federal money would still be required to provide women with at least 43 percent of its scholarships.

Of course, the staunchest advocates of Title IX will rush to point out that women currently constitute 55 percent of the students enrolled in four-year colleges. It’s a simple thing to look at numbers and holler.

Fairness, however, is seldom that simple. The fact is that, because of the budget cuts necessitated by compliance to Title IX, female athletes are now accommodated more completely than their male counterparts.

The General Accounting Office, which gathers data for Congress, has determined that, as of 1999, women’s teams outnumbered men’s across the country by 330. In terms of players, however, men, despite casualties that included 2,648 wrestlers, still held an advantage of 69,000 participants.

The discrepancy — in fact, the discrepancy and then some — is attributable to football, which is what complicates all of this. What separates football from everything else is that 1) it requires a lot of athletes, 2) it makes a lot of money, and 3) women don’t play it much.

One solution to this dilemma would be to field female football teams, but the dollars involved would far exceed the sense. Then there’s this:

The colleges could eliminate men’s teams altogether. And to be equitable, they could eliminate women’s teams, too. They could just have teams, with no sexes designated, and whoever makes them makes them.

Or perhaps they could arrive at a reasonable solution, something on the order of what the national commission is proposing. Perhaps they could see the wisdom of surrendering the infatuation with numbers and working something out.

Since football is such an anomaly, and since it supports the other sports at many schools, why not eliminate it from the formula and then match the numbers between men and women? The intent of Title IX was to ensure that public funding is committed on an equal-opportunity basis, but in many instances football doesn’t require funding; it provides it.

The same sort of reality-based reasoning could be applied to such issues as the Friday-night quandary confronting our high schools. In Kentucky, some schools have begun to devote precious Friday-night basketball slots to the girls. Some Ohio schools are considering doing the same next year.

It’s a thoughtful gesture, and one that should be entertained on a limited basis. The girls deserve to hear the pep bands play, to tip-off the weekend now and then; but not at a real cost that the community can’t afford; not at the expense of quaint tradition.

Gender equity is a stellar goal, but slow going. In its dogged pursuit, we ought not to lose sight of what all student-athletes deserve.

Women’s sports foundation.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!