Is it time for Title IX to end?

My first introduction to writing professionally was as a sports writer for a couple of newspapers in West Virginia. The assignments were simple – go to the games, follow the action, report on what you saw, and occasionally offer commentary and features on the athletes and events.

That’s easy enough given my admiration for sports. I’ve always believed that sports were a great avenue in helping boys and girls to learn about character and to gain self-respect. I recall vividly a number of athletes who attributed part of their maturity to lessons learned on the playing field.

Even with my admiration for sports, I have a hard time justifying the continued support for Title IX, which celebrated its 35th anniversary over the weekend. The law, which was included in the Education Act of 1972, simply states that programs that receive federal support cannot discriminate on the basis of gender. While it did not specifically mention athletics, the language triggered a growth in the number of collegiate athletic opportunities for women.

At the time, Title IX served its purpose. It opened the door for women to enter collegiate athletics, something that might never have occurred. Without Title IX we might not have known about athletes such as Mia Hamm, Sue Bird, or Ivory Latta.

But do we still need Title IX today?

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights uses three tests to assess whether a school is in compliance with Title IX. The proportionality test requires that opportunities for men and women to participate in sports be proportional with student enrollment. The other tests examine a school’s history in offering opportunities to men and women and whether it has fully and effectively done all it can to create opportunities. In general, only one of the tests must be met.

Title IX supporters tend to be dissatisfied with the enforcement by the Department of Education, especially the proportionality test. They also note that much more money is spent on men’s athletic programs than on women’s athletics programs.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 29, 2007) notes that in 2005 only 17 schools spent more than $10 million on women’s sports, while 82 spent that much on men’s programs. That statistic is a red herring, however, because of the high operation costs of college football. For instance, UNC-Charlotte estimates that adding college football would cost $8.9 million, nearly doubling the school’s athletics budget. It would also spend $1.6 million for new programs for women.

Critics of Title IX believe that opportunities for women have been added at the expense of opportunities for men. The College Sports Council, a group that advocates for Title IX reform, claims that the current system is essentially a quota system. Schools must reach certain numbers of women in athletics in order to be in compliance. They claim that was not the intent of the original law.

Efforts to meet the numbers test for women have meant cutting men’s sports, they argue. The College Sports Council has created a new interactive map highlighting how proportionality tests have eliminated sports around the country, including men’s soccer, men’s volleyball, men’s swimming, men’s gymnastics, and wrestling. Men’s volleyball is nearly non-existent, according to the map, with only a handful of states still offering the sport on college campuses. No North Carolina institution offers the sport (which is still an Olympic sport).

Title IX’s premise is one that we can all support. No one should be kept from the halls of academia or the athletic field based on gender. However, changes are clearly needed in enforcement and ultimately in how schools react to compliance tests.

If opportunities for men are being reduced in an effort to maintain Title IX compliance, as they appear to be, then the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights should take a look at how it is enforcing the current statute. The College Sports Council, as well as coaching associations, has made this claim for years regarding volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling, yet these cries have fallen on deaf ears. Don’t the participants of these sports deserve an opportunity to participate on the college level?

Eliminating Title IX would not end women’s sports. The games would still be played and schools would still create opportunities. In fact, perhaps more opportunities would be created because schools would not be tied to arbitrary guidelines about how the athletics department must look at a certain campus.

Should Title IX stay on the books, which is most likely the case, changes should be needed to the enforcement standards. A hard look is needed at the demands of football – both monetarily and in personnel – and how the sport can skew the numbers when it comes to federal reporting. Also, guidelines that lead schools to enforce quotas should be eliminated and replaced with more applicable standards of enforcement.

Ultimately, though, one thing should be kept in mind. Athletes don’t care about Title IX. They just want to play the game.