National Title IX report stirs dissent

Ben Goessling

Wednesday afternoon saw an eight-month review of Title IX’s enforcement culminate in the presentation of a 70-page report to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

But at the same time on Capitol Hill, two members of the 15-person committee that drafted the report railed against it, submitting their own dissenting views with the blessing of an Oscar-winning actress and bipartisan senators.

So what else is new?

The hostility that marked Wednesday’s procedures only proved that nothing, not even a mandate from the White House to examine the 31-year-old law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally supported institutions, can make men and women play nice when it comes to equity in college sports.

While the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics proposed minor changes in the enforcement of Title IX, two members of the committee said the final report did not accurately describe the discrimination that still exists toward women.

Olympic soccer player Julie Foudy and former Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona submitted their own minority report to Paige while linking arms with actress and nationally ranked archer Geena Davis and U.S. Senators Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a campaign to “save Title IX.”

At the University, views on changes to the law are equally contentious, with pro- and anti-Title IX camps fervently defending their causes.

“I’ve been troubled with the whole setup of the commission to begin with,” said Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. “From the beginning, this has been a setup to roll back and undermine Title IX enforcement.”

Proposed changes

The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics rejected major changes to the enforcement of Title IX, including the elimination of its “proportionality” clause, which states the percentage of a school’s female student-athletes must be roughly equal to the percentage of females in its overall student body.

Currently, 56 percent of college students nationwide are women. However, only 42 percent of student-athletes are women.

However, the report suggests minor revisions to the proportionality clause’s interpretation, which could translate into significant changes at many universities.

The commission proposed to count proportionality by predetermining a number of roster spots for each sport rather than counting the actual number of athletes on a team.

For example, if Minnesota’s women’s basketball team could carry as many as 15 players on its roster but only had 12 on the team, 15 athletes would be counted toward proportionality.

Paige is not bound by the commission’s report and can make his own decisions if he chooses.

The change, if passed by Paige, would help men’s teams, which typically carry more athletes than they have room for because of walk-ons.

Under the proposed change, walk-ons would not be counted toward proportionality.

Illinois associate athletics director Terry Cole said the change could provide welcome relief to the school.

Illinois’ student body is comprised of 52 percent women, but only 46 percent of its student-athletes are women.

Rather than adding more women’s sports to the tune of more than $200,000 in start-up costs, Illinois could achieve proportionality much quicker through new rules, Cole said.

At Minnesota, the proposed rules would have little effect on the athletics department, since it is already in compliance with Title IX’s proportionality standard. The student body is comprised of 52 percent women, and 50.7 percent of athletes are women.

However, with the department still facing a possible $2 million funding reduction from the University next year and the threat of cutting sports always present, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the new Title IX rules could come into play down the road.

“If we were to revisit cutting sports, a lot of things would be taken into consideration,” he said. “But will we look at cutting only one men’s sport instead of two? We might. It’s hard to know at this point.”

Minnesota targeted three sports for elimination in a budget-cutting move last April – men’s golf and gymnastics and women’s golf.

The sports were saved in January through $2.7 million in donations, but according to men’s gymnastics coach Fred Roethlisberger, the issue is not always about money.

“I don’t think gender equity was a factor last time around,” he said. “But cutting two men’s sports might have given them more of a comfort range.”

Battle lines drawn

While the University is in compliance with Title IX, the issue is no less heated at this institution than it is around the country.

That is largely because of the presence of wrestling coach J Robinson, one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of Title IX.

Robinson is the founder of Simply Common Sense – a Twin Cities group opposed to the proportionality aspect of Title IX – and blames the law for the precipitous decline in college wrestling programs over the last 20 years.

Since 1972, the year Title IX took effect, 392 college wrestling programs have been dropped.

“Women will talk about everything except the numbers,” Robinson said. “But facts are a pesky thing.”

Robinson said proportionality is wrong because it assumes men and women have the same desire to play sports, which he disputes.

“If you look at recreational sports on campus, men dominate the playing field,” he said. “They just have more interest. People don’t like to admit there’s an unequal distribution in everything.”

Kane, on the other hand, lists proportionality as only one possibility in a host of reasons for the elimination of wrestling and other men’s nonrevenue sports, and fears for women’s sports in the future.

“If the (George W.) Bush administration is truly committed to altering Title IX, they’ll find a whole host of reasons to get around compliance,” she said.

The report has been handed in, but the battle rages on.

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]