Rewriting Title IX

In the mid-1990s, officials at the University of Rhode Island faced a quandary: the school had about 100 more male athletes than female athletes… So the school trimmed a little from each of the men’s sports and added a women’s rowing team in 1997, says Lauren Anderson, associate director of athletic programs.

Men’s sports programs at colleges receiving federal funding–nearly all of them–have similarly suffered the fallout of Title IX since 1972, and growing female student populations have made effects of the law even more acute over the past decade. To be sure, at some schools, massive spending on football and other marquee men’s sports has driven, in concert with Title IX, the demise of less popular programs as administrators seek to equalize (with respect to the makeup of the student body) participation and funding (as well as causing a raft of other problems), but Title IX has directly killed a great number of viable men’s teams, for the sake of equality.

To assess compliance in athletics, Title IX regulations currently impose a three-pronged test. Schools must be able to show 1) that the rates of athletic participation of the sexes are “‘substantially proportionate’ to their respective undergraduate enrollments”, 2) that the school has “a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (typically female)”, and 3) that the school meets “the interests and abilities of its female students” in athletic offerings.

It is the first prong that has caused so much damage to men’s sports as colleges strive for mandated proportionality. The first prong is also where Title IX athletic regulation goes beyond equal opportunity into the realm of affirmative action, applying what has been, in practice, a rigid quota system to college athletics. Were equal opportunity merely the goal, the second and third prongs alone should suffice in meeting women’s athletic interests without creating, as have affirmative action and other quota systems, losers. According to the General Accounting Office, the number of men’s gymnastics teams at NCAA schools has fallen 80% over the last 25 years. Over a similar timespan, 181 NCAA wrestling teams were eliminated (including Dartmouth’s).

The Department of Education recently appointed a committee, staffed by college sports administrators, to propose changes to the Title IX regulations, and their report to the Secretary of Education is due soon. Feminist groups fear that the administration will try to alter or even remove the proportionality test once the committee’s report is in, and they’re already drawing ugly, and misleading, parallels between these feared changes and a recent happening in politics. “I hope the Bush administration takes from this episode with Senator Lott the understanding that civil rights is of critical importance to massive number of Americans,” said Jocelyn Samuels of the National Women’s Law Center to the CS Monitor (from where the above blockquote on URI is taken, as well) when asked about changes to Title IX. Ms. Samuels’s quote is very representative; Title IX advocates are organized and doggedly on-message.

With respect to her expressed desire, I agree with Ms. Samuels entirely. That’s exactly why the administration must strike down Title IX’s proportionality test, which disadvantages male athletes and men’s sports arbitrarily and unnecessarily. Its capricious quota system benefits no one except for those who spend their time litigating Title IX cases (like Ms. Samuels) or derive some bizarre pleasure in keeping men from wrestling or shooting or fielding their own gymantic teams. The proportionality test does not even benefit women’s sport programs; it is nothing but malicious. If Title IX is a civil rights issue, Ms. Samuels and her feminist peers have put themselves on the losing side of the issue, actively advocating sexual discrimination.

Other sources: the Winston-Salem Journal (very complete reporting, timeline, etc.), CNNSI, USA Today (good summary of the committee’s activities). Also see the DOE’s “clarification” of the three-prong test.