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Tuesday, December 3
Boosters, critics awaiting recommendations

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- A federal commission studying Title IX, the law that requires gender equity in high school and university sports, is wrapping up its work and plans to discuss recommendations Wednesday.

The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics is trying to determine whether the 1972 law discriminates against men while expanding athletic opportunities for women. A lawsuit pending in federal court makes that argument.

Universities also have complained that the Department of Education doesn't provide enough guidance on how to comply with Title IX and enforces the law haphazardly.

The commission's recommendations are eagerly anticipated by Title IX's critics, as well as by boosters of women's athletics, who fear the Bush administration wants to weaken the law.

Title IX requires schools that receive federal money to provide equal athletic opportunities for men and women. Since it took effect, the number of girls playing varsity high school sports has risen sharply, as have budgets for women's collegiate athletic programs.

The 15-member commission was formed in June in response to a lawsuit alleging Title IX helps women's sports at the expense of programs for men. The lawsuit, filed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, is pending in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The dispute centers largely on a three-pronged test used by the federal Office of Civil Rights to determine if a school is complying with Title IX. Schools meeting any of the three are presumed to be in compliance.

The first prong measures whether the percentage of women participating in sports is roughly equal to the school's female population. The coaches' association favors abolishing the test, saying it has forced universities to cut men's programs to achieve parity.

"We don't see enrollment as a fair measure of interest,'' said Michael Moyer, executive director of the coaches association.

But law professor Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, said the problem isn't with Title IX, but with athletic directors who don't make the effort to expand opportunities for women while retaining them for men.

A school that doesn't achieve proportionality has two other options for proving it complies with Title IX: Either it has a history of expanding athletic opportunities for women; or it has accommodated female athletes' interests and abilities.

But commission co-chair Ted Leland, Stanford's athletic director, noted that strict proportionality is a school's only absolute defense against charges that it discriminates against women.

"On a day-to-day basis, schools don't believe there's flexibility,'' he said. "The three-pronged test is elegant, but it's not operational. It doesn't work.''

The commission took testimony at meetings around the country. On Tuesday, it began a two-day meeting in Philadelphia to hash out its findings and make recommendations.

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