Politics & Policy

Dropping The Ball On Title Ix

It's time for reform, already.

It was the political equivalent of a first and goal from the one-yard line. At long last, reform to Title IX, the gender-discrimination law, was all set for approval by the Department of Education just last year.

Eliminating the gender quota that has decimated men’s college athletics had been a GOP platform issue, after all. Coaches, student athletes, parents, and educators had worked successfully for more than two years to focus media attention on the reckless harm of the department’s enforcement methods. A presidential commission was appointed, composed mostly of luminaries from women’s athletics, which handed Secretary Rod Paige a thoughtful report with common-sense recommendations. All that was required was his sign-off.

And then…nothing happened. Inexplicably, the report was dumped in a circular file. It was a policy fumble that left college athletes off the field and out of the gym–and high-school athletes wondering what was in store for them.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Paige, a reform advocate, had been pressured by the White House. The president’s domestic-policy advisor, Margaret Spellings, was the point person on Title IX and she had long kept the coaches and reform advocates at arm’s length.

The political rationale, presumably, was that radical feminist groups would rally soccer moms in the election cycle, arguing that the president was taking the game ball away from little girls. If that was the thinking, it proved foolish: The president was pilloried nonetheless by those same groups.

Now, incredibly, news reports over the weekend signaled that Paige would resign imminently–and that the White House was touting none other than Spellings to replace him.

At the very least, Spellings owes an explanation to the parents, coaches, and kids. How is it possible that a domestic-policy goal with such broad support and such obvious merit could be scuttled at the very threshold of success? What role did she play in derailing Title IX reform?

Conservatives had reason to hope when the same language for Title IX reform made it into the GOP platform at the New York convention. If Margaret Spellings is in fact nominated to be secretary of education, the coaches, and many others fear their hopes will be dashed.

The questions that senators should put to her at the confirmation hearing are straightforward and deserve candid answers:

‐As secretary of Education, what would she do to eliminate proportionality–the onerous gender quota that would be tolerated nowhere else in American public life?

‐Would she endorse the enforcement of proportionality on high-school teams, which would then require the elimination of over 1 million boys from sports activities just to satisfy a 50-50 gender ratio?

‐Would she offer any regulatory relief to administrators at the historically black colleges who currently struggle with an ever-widening gender imbalance favoring females at a rate of 65 to 70 percent?

Meanwhile, in what is becoming an annual ritual at virtually every school, men’s athletic teams are on the chopping block again. Over 100 NCAA men’s teams were eliminated last year alone. The termination of more programs is a certainty: School officials reason that only by making their athletic departments exactly “proportional” to their entire undergraduate student body can they protect themselves from government investigation and trial lawyers.

This practice doesn’t benefit women in any way, mind you–it is just about making the numbers fit. In sports such as track and swimming, men and women train together, so eliminating male teammates has a negative impact on female performance. Just ask any women’s swim coach without a men’s counterpart how difficult it is for her to recruit top athletes to her program.

But the reforms are as basic as can be. One vague provision already a part of the law says that schools can comply by providing teams based on the level of interest. So shouldn’t we find some clear ways for schools to measure how they can reasonably meet the interest of men and women who want to participate in athletics?

It’s worth noting that the quota-activist groups are only getting started with their government-enforced social engineering. At this moment, they are bringing lawsuits and lobbying pressure in various states to bring proportionality to high schools. The legal language they are using comes straight from the Department of Education’s own guidelines. For example, the state of California just recently began mimicking the department’s enforcement methods; arbitrary roster limits for boy’s teams are sure to follow.

But anyone who thinks that the college coaches who started this reform effort will be discouraged by politicians or the gender police ought to think again. We practically invented the word tenacity and our only special interest is in seeing that all athletes get a chance to live their competitive dreams.

So let’s make it clear, once and for all: Everyone agrees that men and women should have equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The problem is the unreasonable gender quota, which is clearly causing schools to cap and cut men’s teams. President Bush ran on a promise to “leave no child behind,” an idea woven into the fabric of the American dream. Educators should be working to secure this promise rather than limiting opportunities for students.

I believe firmly that there is a middle ground, and that a solution is possible. Coaches, parents, and athletes are there. Women such as the WNBA’s Cynthia Cooper and the University of Maryland’s Athletic Director, Debbie Yow, are there.

Conservatives, of course, have been arguing for these reforms for years. It’s time we put the ball over the goal line.

Eric Pearson is executive director of the College Sports Council, a national coalition of coaches, parents, athletes, and former athletes.

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