Title IX, the education nondiscrimination law whose current guidelines are the subject of endless debate and litigation, is rarely considered a disadvantage for women’s sports. But that may be changing. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Manhattan decided that making girls play soccer in the spring when boys play in the fall is sexist. This ruling will actually limit the opportunities for Westchester County’s female athletes.
The lawsuit alleges that the women’s soccer season is intentionally scheduled at a less advantageous time of the year than the men’s, preventing the females from competing in the state championship and in tournaments that take place in the fall. But while the scheduling is unfortunate, it has nothing to do with sex discrimination.
As a former three-sport varsity athlete in one of the towns involved in the court case, I was very surprised to learn that Pelham Memorial High School was not in compliance with Title IX. While I was there, there were more women’s teams than men’s teams. And, since my time there, they’ve added women’s swimming.
In a school that just graduated a class of only 150 students, it is unusual that Pelham’s athletics department is as strong as it is. While a surprising 80 percent of students in Pelham play one or more sports, the competition for players is extremely high. A shortage of players to fill seven women’s teams — not sexism — was the basis for moving soccer to the spring.
Because Westchester’s field-hockey program was so strong, soccer was relegated to the spring. According to Pelham superintendent Charles Wilson, it was one of the last women’s programs to be added in Pelham, and most Westchester teams decided that scheduling soccer in the spring would balance the women’s schedule.
Soccer players are at a disadvantage in Pelham. They are ineligible for the state championships and if they’re serious about playing in college, they have to juggle club, Olympic-development programs, and varsity soccer in the same season. All other girls in New York State have the luxury of playing one at a time. Westchester’s girls also get no special treatment for conflicting schedules and are often forced to drop something — usually their varsity team.
This is unfortunate, but not sexist; and the only option would be to penalize other female sports. There are currently six female sports in the fall, but only four teams in the spring. The women’s soccer team would compete with football and men’s soccer for field time in the fall, but it would be competing with the women’s cross-country team, the field-hockey team, the volleyball team, the tennis team, the swim team, and cheerleading for players — a more valuable commodity.
Many of the girls on Pelham’s soccer team are not pleased about losing one of their sports. One of the players I spoke to argued that “it’s really not fair; we wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to play the other sports.” The families in the lawsuit were not available to talk to NRO, but one of the girls suing told the New York Post that “Life’s not fair. They’ll have to choose sports. But the school has to do things right across the board.”
Their lawyer, Paul Robbins, noted that fewer options would be “part of the price of overall fairness” — but there’s quite simply nothing fair about this decision. If the choice to put women’s soccer in the spring were sexist, or if the unequal treatment had anything to do with sex, they might have a case. As it is, the uneven treatment of the sexes is simply an unintended consequence of female competition. If, as Robbins admitted, moving the season would have no effect on the boys’ teams, why would the schools be so stubborn about the switch? It might have something to do with the damage it will cause all the female teams, including soccer.
This would also explain why the move is so unpopular — among the faculty, the coaches, and a majority of the players. Other schools faced with the lawsuit were able to comply. Bigger schools don’t have any trouble meeting the demands of a rigorous athletics program, because they have more athletes to fill their rosters. The girls in Pelham can play only one sport in the fall and will have fewer options in the spring. The quality of all seven teams will suffer; and more girls will be left on the sidelines in the spring, with only three sports available to them.
The girls in favor of the switch are in a very small minority. As the girls JV soccer team asked in a letter submitted to the court: “Why should the rest of us have to switch for their benefit?” While the sexism charge might seem like an easy fix, it will only exacerbate the situation and set an awful precedent.
For a team that has not won sectionals in several years, there is little to gain in moving the season. But the future of women’s athletics departments in small schools like Pelham, and in sports without vibrant club teams, will undoubtedly be shaken.
Michael Miranda, the lawyer for the schools, is appealing the decision and says it might go to the Supreme Court. If the decision sticks, the only message it will leave the girls with is that “life’s not fair.” Not a lesson one would expect from legislation supposedly meant to protect their rights.
— Meghan Keane is an NR editorial associate.