Title IX: After 30 Years, Does It Still Ensure Equity?

By Michael Spinner

It is hard to believe how far women's sports have come in the last 30 years. There was a time when the idea that 250,000 people would flock to the Rose Bowl to watch the Women's World Cup soccer finals was absurd, the notion of a WNBA was crazy, and the thought that almost every Women's College Sports Championship would be on National Television was impossible to believe. But, in 2002, women's sports are a major part of our culture and it is hard to imagine the way things "used to be" where women's sports were non - existent.

Much of the reason behind the advancement of women's sports is Title IX - the law that forbids sex discrimination in all programs at schools that get federal aid, although most of its continued application relates to athletics. Recently, Title IX marked its 30th anniversary. While nobody doubts the achievements the law has allowed, there are still many who are not celebrating its birthday.

In the lacrosse world, Title IX is viewed with mixed results. Seemingly, its application has allowed women's lacrosse to grow to the point where Division I schools such as Stanford, Northwestern, UConn, George Washington, American, Vanderbilt, and others offer women's lacrosse as a varsity sport. At the same time, Division I Men's Lacrosse has hovered around 50 teams for too long now and even when schools such as Binghamton add men's lacrosse, others such as Boston College have dropped the sport leaving the men's game pretty much stagnant, as the youth and high school game grows rapidly. Even as participation in men's lacrosse grows to the point where the sport is played from coast - to - coast and there are professional indoor and outdoor leagues, the college men's game has not expanded at the same rate as male college - aged participation has grown.

It's real simple - men's lacrosse is an expensive sport to add to an athletics department. A competitive squad has a roster of at least 30 and the equipment necessary to field a team comes at quite a pricetag. Essentially, men's and women's lacrosse are different sports when it comes to funding and colleges have been quick to notice this. Even if a school has the flexibility to add men's lacrosse under Title IX, the cost is enormous, and therefore the possibility of much expansion an unlikely one. On the other hand, for a school needing to add women's sports to become compliant, lacrosse is a great fix - it has a lot of participants, it's cheap, and it's very easy to add. The current climate has made life very difficult for men's lacrosse advocates and the 30th anniversary of Title IX has stirred the embers of the once heated debate. Only this time we have the benifit of proven results, much hindsight and only one question left to answer - what can be done to achieve actual fairness? The answer may be easier than it seems or more difficult than can be imagined - depending on whom you ask.

Nobody can question the fact that Title IX is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation passed after the 1960's. The explosion of women's sports is living proof that the atmosphere that existed in 1972 was wrong and needed to change. The problem is that in many instances, the interpretation of Title IX has apparently led to the elimination of men's sports - most prominently in wrestling, track, and swimming - and the lack of growth in popular sports such as lacrosse. Without going into great detail about the application of the law, the most prominent application of the Title IX is called "proportionality" - the notion that athletic opportunities for women should reflect the proportion of women on - campus.

So if a school is 60% female, Title IX says that 60% of the athletic participants should be women, 60% of scholarship opportunities should go to women, etc.

This is where the debate comes in - if a school is 60% female and not in compliance, cutting men's sports is a cheap and fast way get the numbers in check. You cut a men's team or two, add a women's team or two, and all is well. The option of adding an expensive men's sport like men's lacrosse is just not part of the equation. When you add football to the numbers, with rosters as large as 85 - 100 scholarship players and no women's sport to cancel it out, men's lacrosse has little opportunity to grow.

So, what do you do? Some say you eliminate Title IX all together because it has generated an atmosphere of reverse discrimination and, if anything, created a "men versus women" sentiment that is certainly in violation of the spirit of Title IX or the concept of college athletics as a whole. Others suggest eliminating football from the Title IX equation would level the field here because successful football programs can probably fund themselves through attendance and television revenue and without a women's sport to offset the football numbers, other men's sports are placed in a difficult position. Above all, this would force schools that spend millions of dollars on football programs that ultimately lose money to make prudent business decisions about their football businesses, which is what they are. However, simply eliminating Title IX holds an inherent risk of a return to discriminatory practices.

The reality is that there is no simple solution, as many activists are finding out today. And the reason for this can be found in the root of Title IX application. The notion of using a subjective standard, statistics, to quantify something objectively concluded upon, discrimination. If a school is 60% female but only 42% of its female students are athletes and 50% of its scholarship resources go to female athletes, according to the proportionality application of Title IX this school discriminates against women. Whether or not discrimination is actually taking place is impossible to determine since all the numbers prove is that at this school, there are more male athletes than female and half of the school's scholarship resources go to each gender. Since "discrimination" is a state of mind and a conscious decision and the determination of what is discrimination is an objective standard, proportionality really means nothing.

They're sporting the new REBEL/STX Uniforms!

All of this is why the Title IX debate is so frustrating. The law was passed for the purpose of mandating that women should have the same opportunities as men and there is nobody who can doubt that this purpose is correct and just. But 30 years later, this noble purpose has been replaced by numbers crunching that has only left more questions than answers.

What needs to happen is something rare in government today - people need to be allowed to think. Instead of serving up statistics and charts, perhaps somebody should simply determine if a school is systematically disallowing women to participate in sports. If Utah State University has 50 experienced females who wish to play Division I lacrosse and are willing to make the commitment to doing so, is the school doing everything it can to accommodate them? Are there several groups of qualified female athletes from different sports who are seeking varsity status? If so, is the school doing everything it can (or at least putting forth an equal effort to accommodate women as it does for men) to give the female athletes the same opportunity accorded to men?

If the answers to these questions are "no," perhaps you have a case for discrimination. If not, if the school is giving female athletes the same opportunities it allows men but the numbers just so happen to be skewed a bit, perhaps we should just admit that this is an imperfect world and sometimes human beings can not reach the lofty standards of mathematical formulas.

In this ideal world, one can say without being labeled a person with prejudice that if you have a men's and women's lacrosse team at one school, both teams should have equal scholarship opportunities, the same travel and recruiting budget, and the same facilities - that is fair. However, since the men's lacrosse program requires much more in expenditures than the women's program (i.e. pads), if the men's team gets a bit more money, perhaps somebody should accept the fact that this is prudent planning instead of discrimination. Are members of the women's lacrosse team at this school being deprived of opportunities because of the budgetary disparity? No. Then guess what - this is not discrimination.

And if this particular standard applies to all sports at all schools, we can live in a world of collegiate athletics where everybody can have a chance to play…the reason for Title IX in the first place. If School A is spending more money on men's sports but its women are enjoying every desired athletic opportunity, what is the problem? And for football - even if football does cause the budgetary and scholarship figures to be skewed towards men, a Saturday afternoon football game enhances the quality of life at most schools to the point where an uproar is really not warranted. Even at small schools, football is a campus event in the Fall that makes the school as a whole better. Does it mean that female athletes are being discriminated against because of the 100 scholarships and millions of dollars being spent on football? Not if every female athlete at this school is getting a genuine opportunity to participate in their desired sport.

In other words, it is no longer 1972. Even if a College wanted to discriminate, could they really get away with it now that women's sports have become such a part of our culture and women have made so vermany strides in athletics, and in every arena, over the last 30 years.

Not that the situation is perfect, but this is a different world. Systematic discrimination is not as common as it was 30 years ago and Title IX has accomplished its mission of opening doors for women that were wrongly closed 30 years ago. But people are much smarter today and it is time we allow them to begin thinking for themselves and to ensure that everybody gets their equal shot.

All Photos by John Strohsacker

June 25, 2002

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