|Thursday, December 5
Proposals would overhaul some Title IX aspects
PHILADELPHIA -- Universities could find it easier to comply with Title IX under proposals that a federal commission began considering Wednesday.
Title IX, the law that requires gender equity in collegiate athletics, has greatly increased opportunities for women in sports over the past 30 years. But critics say the law discriminates against men, and schools complain that the government doesn't enforce the law evenly and has failed to provide enough guidance on how to comply.
Meeting in Philadelphia, the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics on Wednesday began formulating recommendations for making the law clearer and more flexible. The panel will vote on the recommendations in January and submit them to Education Secretary Rod Paige, who has final say over whether any are implemented.
Several proposals discussed Wednesday would overhaul 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 tests are presumed to be in compliance.
The first and most controversial prong measures whether the percentage of women participating in sports is roughly equal to the proportion of female students in the school. A lawsuit filed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association seeks to ban the proportionality standard, saying it has forced universities to cut men's programs to achieve parity.
None of the panelists suggested doing away with the prong altogether, but many favored allowing schools to deviate significantly from strict proportionality.
Deborah Yow, the athletic director at Maryland, proposed that as a starting point, 50 percent of a given school's athletes should be female and 50 percent male. But schools would also be permitted to deviate from the benchmark by several percentage points.
That would give schools "wiggle room'' to account for walk-ons, transfers and athletes who become academically ineligible, while "vastly improving the current status for women in sports,'' she said.
But panelist Julie Foudy, captain of the U.S. national soccer team, said the proposal would weaken Title IX by rendering the proportionality standard essentially meaningless. Universities would automatically "go to the point of least resistance,'' she said.
Title IX is "not about making significant improvements, it's about equality,'' she said. "We're not there.''
Other proposals would eliminate or reduce paperwork requirements; clarify Title IX regulations; create a standardized survey for schools to measure female interest in sports; and encourage universities to stop the "arms race'' in which schools spend ever-increasing amounts of money on training facilities, coaches' salaries, chartered planes and other measures designed to recruit the best athletes.
The 1972 law requires schools receiving 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 by Paige in response to the wrestling coaches' lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Paige told the commission Wednesday that its work is "going to influence policy, going to impact the lives of Americans for years.''
The panel of sports professionals and educators took testimony at meetings around the country before convening in Philadelphia to hash out its findings and make recommendations.
"This is a difficult issue. ... We just want to make a good thing better,'' Paige said.