Day 1:Brand, Title IX Commission headline first day of NCAA Title IX sessions

USA Wrestling
Gary Abbott

The slogan for the NCAA Title IX Seminar this year is “Listen, Learn, Be Heard.”

The first day of the two-day event, held at the swank Hyatt in LaJolla, Calif. on Monday, April 28, certainly had a lot of listening. Exactly what was learned and how much was heard is certainly up for debate.

For somebody from the wrestling community, this seemed like foreign territory. During the mill-around time, before the meetings began, things seemed a bit out of order. There was a resource room, filled with booths from the various women’s special interest groups: Women’s Sports Foundation, National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, National Association of Women College Athletic Administrators and some group concerning Women in Education. All of their information-propaganda was displayed there. NCAA Title IX Seminar, Day 1:Brand, Title IX Commission headline first day of NCAA Title IX sessions.

At a booth, right near registration, the National College Women’s Basketball Coaches were selling “Preserve Title IX” t-shirts as a fundraiser.

Nowhere was a sign of any group that does not toe the feminist line – such as the Independent Women’s Forum or the College Sports Council. If you look at the list of reference materials in the handout binder, all of the listed materials came from groups seeking to defend the proportionality quota. If you look at the list of participants, women outnumbered men, two to one.

You might say that this could be perceived as a hostile environment for me, and for the wrestling community. The only saving grace is that the NCAA actually agreed to let me attend, even though I do not represent a member institution or conference. NCAA staff member Rosie Stallman receives credit for accepting our request to attend, and standing by her commitment to allow different viewpoints.

We attended meetings from 8:30 a.m. straight through until 5:00 p.m., then I spent an additional 30 minutes talking with former OCR Director Norma Cantu, as well as with a “Civil Rights plaintiff lawyer” named Kristen Gollis. It was a surreal ending to a remarkable day, one that drained every ounce of energy from my body and soul.

I filled almost two full notepads with quotes and notes from the speakers. I did not agree with much of what I heard. Some of it, especially in the address from the NCAA President Myles Brand, made me angry. I did not lose my cool a single time. I chose to participate actively, asking a number of questions at different times to different people. Most of my questions were not answered directly or to my satisfaction.

NCAA Director of Outreach Rosie Stallman opened the session with an introduction of their special guest, former Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, one of sponsors of the original Title IX legislation. Making the formal presentation of the glass trophy (with the inscription “Father of Title IX”) to Bayh was unannounced guest Julie Foudy, the professional women’s soccer player and Women’s Sports Foundation president who made national headlines as a member of the Commission on Opportunities in Athletics. “On behalf of millions of young girls out there, we wrap our arms around you, hug you and thank you,” said Foudy.

Bayh gave a short history of how he got involved in the Title IX issue, giving his wife credit as his “helpmate that gave me a Masters degree in equality.” He indicated that “it was evident that the worst discrimination against women was the way that they were treated in schools.” He said that his motivation was to create a world “where women and girls are treated the same as men and boys.” He also noted that “the intent of Title IX is not to take opportunity away from men but to give it to women.”

Next came the keynote speech, provided by NCAA President Myles Brand. As in many of his earlier addresses, Brand spoke with many of the catch phrases and statistics often used by the feminist special interest groups. And, as in other speeches, he took a direct jab at the wrestling community. He was certainly preaching to the choir, but also, as the lead executive of the NCAA, his speech was directed to the press, as well as others outside of this room.

“These are perilous times,” said Brand. “The future of Title IX is uncertain. We do not know what Secretary Paige will do with the recommendations of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics.”

Brand went on to say that “several recommendations threaten to weaken Title IX.” He voiced concerns that these changes would “freeze lower participation,” and “institutionalize discrimination,” and even “inhibit future growth.” He then asked people to remember 1972, and cited statistics of how little opportunity existed for women then in college sports.”

He then addressed those who had challenges with Title IX enforcement, calling them “critics” and questioning their positions and their motives.

“The sport most often cited is wrestling,” said Brand. He then used a wrestling leader to challenge the wrestling position, offering a quote from Dr. Peter Likens, the president of the Univ. of Arizona and a former college wrestler who is an Outstanding American in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The quote that he read indicated that Likens was “deeply saddened by the loss of opportunities” in wrestling, but that he assigned blame “to the male leadership, not Title IX.”

After using selected statistics from the March 2001 GAO study, Brand went on to strongly insist that Title IX is not the reason for the loss in men’s opportunities. “The conclusions are clear; the decisions are made at the institutional level and for a variety of reasons. It is because institutions have chosen this direction, not because of Title IX.”

“Compliance with the law can not by bypassed,” said Brand. “My position is clear; this is the real field of dreams story; if you build it, they will come.”

Brand next took on the Office of Civil Rights. He cited a rumor that “the OCR has told staff to suspend reviews because changes are coming. This must be reversed immediately. Nothing is more fatal to civil rights legislation than neglect.”

Brand closed the speech sounding like a cheerleader for the special interest groups seeking to defend proportionality.

“Title IX is not broken, and does not mean to be fixed,” said Brand. “Now is not the time to say ‘close enough’ and see the work undone. Now is the time to say ‘close the gap.'”

He closed again by using a quote from Dr. Likens.

“I learned to be a university president on the wrestling mats,” Brand quoted Likens.

“Athletics participation is a value to both men and women,” he closed.

An NCAA staffer reminded everybody that Brand’s speech would be prominently displayed on the NCAA web page.

It was time for a short break, and for me to get the heck out of the auditorium. So many thoughts raced through the mind, like whether Brand knew that there was no more wrestling at the Univ. of Arizona, and that Likens could probably never re-start his favorite sport at his institution due to Title IX considerations.

One thing was clear to me. Brand did not use the Likens quotes to bring any specific enlightenment to his audience. It was a blatant stab at the wrestling community, using one of wrestling’s own alumni to belittle those seeking Title IX reform.

Next came a meeting of many members of the Commission on Opportunities in Athletics, along with Judith Sweet, the NCAA’s Senior Administrator. Exactly how Sweet fits in with the Commission members is still unclear to me, but it made good drama.

Commission co-chair Ted Leland was the moderator, saying serving as the co-chair was a “privlege” and that it was an “interesting trip.” He said that he was “flabbergasted by the interest in Title IX and the support for Title IX. I was amazed by the passion for sport and pleased by the process.”

Leland defended the individual commissioners motives, something he had to do during the hearings many times. “People gave us cynical motives,” said Leland. “They took off their self-interest hats, I didn’t see that one time. They all did the best that they could.”

Judith Sweet next gave her assessment of the commission’s recommendations. “In my opinion, some will have little or no impact, several are unclear and can’t be determined how they will affect it. There are a few that potentially will change the original intent of Title IX and weaken the law,” she said. Sweet then read every recommendation to the audience, which were displayed in large type on a big television monitor.

Each of the Commissioners were given five minutes to talk about anything they wished. Leland led off with his proposal to redo the expansive EADA report that college are required to file each year. “Most of us think it is a joke,” he said. “It is bad information in, bad information out, a waste of time, a lot of time.” Leland indicated that colleges should be allowed to declare which way it complies with Title IX, using prong one, two or three. He said the forms only use proportionality as the measurement tool.

Percy Bates spoke of the education he received during the hearings, even though he entered the task believing he understood Title IX. “Noone said that Title IX did not work or that they were not in support of Title IX. Some said it’s enforcement must be fixed. There was enough fingerpointing and blame to go around.”

Bates indicated that there needed to be more education on the law, and there “was too much emphasis on prong one.” The education must help people “remember there is not one way, there are three.” He also shared his thoughts of Education Secretary Rod Paige, who will made the final decisions about any Title IX enforcement changes. “We asked him, that in his deliberations, we encourage you not to do anything that will weaken Title IX. I know Secretary Paige to be an honorable man. I left that room reasonably comfortable he will follow up.”

Tom Griffith continued on many themes he stressed during the later Commission hearings. “The work of the Commission has been called into question,” said Griffith. “You can debate the substance – that is fair. I hope you refrain from criticizing the motives of the Commissioners.”

Griffith repeated his position against any use of quotas in interpreting the law. He read the portion of the original Title IX statute which indicated the intent of Congress that noting shall “be required to provide preferential or disparite treatment.”

“That is not interpretation. Not clarification. That’s an act of Congress,” he said. “It’s crystal clear. Whatever measure is used to insure equality of opportunity to eliminate discrimination, one means can not be used. It can not be based upon an imbalance of numbers.”

Deborah Price, the OCR staff member that served as the Commission Executive Director, spoke her mind for the first time since completing her task. The Commission has been resolved, and she has moved on to another government assignment. She basically defended the Commission process, its selection of witnesses and other matters criticized by the quota advocates.

“Many people challenged why have a Commission,” Price said. “There had been meetings with several groups, with very different perspectives. There were hundreds and hundreds of letters. Then the wrestlers brought a lawsuit in court that involved the Department of Education. Secretary Paige understood Title IX to be a strong statute. Title IX was strong enough to stand up when reviewed in public.”

She also explained how Secretary Paige continued to review the Commission recommendations, and also explained his decision to accept just the 15 consensus recommendations.

Rita Simon explained her position concerning the use of surveys to measure interest. “I’m the only practicing social scientist on the Commission. We need more data, valid and reliable data, a continious and on-going surveys of students goint into college.”

Donna DeVarona, one of the two Commissioners who would not sign onto the final report and issued a “Minority Report” gave some of her motivations. She explained how things were during her athletic career, prior to the passage of Title IX. “We ran into a brick wall in high school and college,” she said. DeVarona complained of the lack of time for these hearings, and felt that the Commission needed one more meeting after its votes on the recommendations to properly pull the final report together.

“The wrestlers made a great case,” said DeVarona. “I wish they didn’t believe that women were the opponent.”

“The devil is in the details,” she continued. “When it came to the end, there were things missing. I wanted a solution panel, which we never had.”

DeVarona explained why she and Julie Foudy decided not to support the final report and issue their own minority paper. “I felt we needed to do this report. I want you to read it. It couldn’t have hurt to have these views in the final report.”

The public question and answer period contained some drama. In many cases, those asking questions did not even have a question, just giving their opinion or in some cases just attacking individual Commissioners.

The tone was set when Athena Yamiyanous asked Debbie Price what would happen after Secretary Price made his decision, and if there would be a chance for public comment at that time. Price was placed in the position of defending Paige for actions that he had not even done yet.

“I will restate the Secretary’s desire to strengthen Title IX and provide greater opportunity for women and men. He has lived up to that statement. The Commission has given its report and he is reviewing it. Secretary Paige is a man of his word,” she said.

Tom Grifith reacted to some of the words used by DeVarona about people attacking or weakening Title IX. “I take issues with this,” he said. “The advocates need to make these arguments, that ‘the sky is falling.’ They need to tone it down. That is not a helpful approach.”

Many of the questioners continued to hammer on individual Commissioners or specific recommendations. Both Simon and Leland reminded the group that 15 of the 23 recommendations were unanimous and that 13 of the 15 Commissioners stood behind the report.

I decided I needed to ask a question. I got on line for the microphone, behind Lock Haven’s athletic director Sharon Taylor. She never asked a question, mostly blasting the Commission and its existence. “I’m glad everyone who spoke supported Title IX,” she said with sarcasm. “If that was the case, your work would not have been necessary.” She went on to thank DeVarona and Foudy for their courage, and whoever in the Bush Administration decided to only accept the unanimous recommendations.

Later in the day, I had a chance to speak wrestling with Sharon Taylor. She voiced her admiration and support of women’s wrestling star Sara McMann, who attended Lock Haven, and talked about how important wrestling is on her campus and in her community.

For my question to the panel, I chose to ask about the unanimous recommendation that dropping programs was a “disfavored practice.” Rather than ask the Commissioners about it, I wanted their opinion if the NCAA would ever embrace this concept, and provide the support and resources to make it happen. After listening to Brand’s rhetoric, I wanted to throw that concept directly at the NCAA.

Leland quickly defended the NCAA as a member-institution driven organization, meaning that individual colleges would have to make this an issue for the NCAA to review. After listening, I asked about a term used in the Commission hearings, the “bully pulpit” and if the NCAA would use that kind of public support for men’s Olympic sport, like they did for Title IX. I called these hearings a “bully pulpit for one viewpoint.

This time, I got Judy Sweet to suggest that this issue needed to be taken to the Olympic Sports Liaison Committee, as if Title IX was not even a factor in eliminated men’s programs. Then DeVarona said we should take it to the Olympic Committee, to “Bruce Baumgartner, (Jim) Scherr and (Bill) Martin.”

The answer was exactly what has been said before. Basically, the NCAA wishes to look the other way and defer the problem to somebody else, rather than address it head on. It had the ability to stand strong for women athletes and their view of Title IX, but not the courage to stand strong for men Olympic athletes.

After that session ended, I spent some time spewing my thoughts about Brand’s attitude to Jeff Howard, a new public relations professional at the NCAA who worked for a number of years with the USOC. I explained how Brand’s use of certain language was insulting to wrestling and other men’s Olympic sports. Jeff politely listened and promised to give my position some thought, and promised to allow me to discuss it with him in the future.

The lunch featured a chicken salad, and a speech by former OCR Director Norma Cantu, explaining her achievements and motives during eight years in the Clinton Administration. Her comments will be used in another article at another time. The afternoon featured three seminars, also interesting education on how the NCAA and its selected panelists preach the Title IX positions as an institution. What I found interesting is that the individual athletic directors who have to work with the law have a much more practical and balanced view of the law and its usage than those who speak on behalf of the law in public.

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