COLLEGE SPORT FOR WOMEN
Title IX has expanded opportunities for women in programs that receive federal funding, including collegiate sports programs. In practice, compliance is achieved by first measuring the ratio of females to males within the student body, and then adjusting the number of sports programs to match this ratio. But the unintentional consequence here is that many schools, in order to meet these quotas, simply end up eliminating men’s sports teams instead of expanding women’s athletic programs. Depending on the students’ interest levels in sports, this results in wasted resources and disappointed athletes: dozens upon dozens of male athlete hopefuls are turned away from the JV team, while the corresponding women’s program has just enough players to fill the Varsity roster. The law does state that no person can be excluded from participation in programs or activities on the basis of sex – yet this is exactly what we have seen happen among men’s sports programs since the start of the 1990’s.
Filed in January 2002, the National Wrestling Coaches Association lawsuit helped bring the issue of Title IX reform into the public eye. The case was thrown out, but the question persists: does Title IX bring less equality to the playing field that one might believe at first glance? According to the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, it does. The Commissioners have been busy brainstorming creative solutions to the problems that Title IX has caused, but the battle continues. The effects of Title IX are seen in Olympics sports, the NCAA, and high-school sports programs across the country: swimming, gymnastics, track and field, tennis, golf, and wrestling are all negatively affected by the quota rule that helps enforce Title IX.
Can Title IX be fixed? Jamie Moffatt has hope. He is the executive director of the College Sports Council, a band of coaches working to reform Title IX. A 60-year old retired management consultant, Moffatt is the first to declare the necessity of the law, having graduated high school a few years before Title IX came into effect. But according to him, the wild imbalance that once nearly shut women out from sports has tipped so far the other way that it can no longer be ignored. His mission? To see to it that the proportionality rule is removed from the law. Only then, he says, can Title IX “do what it was meant to do – make sure there is no discrimination against women or men who want the opportunity to participate.”
What do women have to say about all of this? It depends on who you ask. Many women recognize the ironic injustice of the situation: a law created to reverse gender inequality among sports programs is now discriminating against men on the basis of their gender. But that doesn’t prevent feminist interest groups such as the National Organization for Women and the Women’s Sports Foundation from speaking out against the issue of Title IX reform. “They’re basically trying to undo everything we’ve accomplished in 30 years,” says WSF’s Executive Director Donna Lopiano.
Not so, according to those pressing for Title IX reform. It’s just that fairness doesn’t have to mean proportionality based on the student body male-to-female ratio. Rather, the programs and corresponding opportunities should exist for those who show interest in participating, regardless of their gender. Many agree that the current proportionality standard needs to be dismissed, but there is little consensus as to what standard should be used to replace it. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics has proposed a simple poll that would survey students on their interest in academic sports programs; a school’s compliance with Title IX would be based on the results of the poll.
Another proposed reform would eliminate the provision that requires colleges to give out sports scholarships in a proportion that mirrors the constitution of the student body. It’s this kind of obsession with numbers that made Title IX unfair in the first place. An interesting twist is thrown into the debate when the subject of football comes up. Football ends up being the exception that proves the rule; it makes so much money that it often provides funding for entire athletic departments. Sadly, it requires so many athletes to the point where other male sports teams are often eliminated in the interest of meeting proportionality quotas.
In this sensitive realm of gender equality, it is hard to nail down a definitive solution to the sports equality imbalance. Title IX was passed by Congress in 1972 and has undoubtedly made a world of difference for women in sports. Since that year, female participation in high school sports in the US has increased tenfold. But unfortunately, men’s programs have paid the price. The road from here is rocky and complicated, requiring not a total scrapping of the law, but rather a careful revision.