Politics & Policy

The ‘No Brainer’ Gender Quota

The Obama administration's rigid interpretation of Title IX makes thoughtlessness mandatory.

In April, the Obama administration gave itself a victory lap, thinking it had just scored the winning goal by rolling back a 2005 Bush administration Title IX policy clarification. In his announcement, Vice President Biden called the rollback a “no brainer” – that is to say, it required little thought. And indeed, the Obama administration has put very little thought into how the policy change would affect male and female athletes.

It will once again put the emphasis for Title IX compliance on the proportionality prong of the policy’s three-part test. Technically, there are supposed to be three ways for a school to comply with Title IX. However, since the Cohen v. Brown ruling in 1995, the courts and federal bureaucrats have made clear to schools that when it comes to the threat of Title IX litigation, only the proportionality test will give them a safe harbor.

The 2005 Bush policy clarification addressed this problem by offering, for the first time, an official survey method for schools to measure student interest in sports. Although it didn’t go so far as to require schools to survey all students, just those of the “underrepresented” gender (women), it still constituted a step towards fairer and more reasonable regulations, by letting institutions show that female students were participating in sports in proportion to their expressed interest in doing so. But the method was labeled a “loophole” by its detractors. Apparently, asking students what they want is too much information for the likes of the Obama administration and its friends at the NCAA.

Maybe they should have asked female swimmers and runners how they feel about losing their male teammates. In sports like swimming and track, men and women train together, and the female athletes suffer when their male counterparts are eliminated in order to comply with Title IX. Duquesne University recently cut four men’s teams, and female swimmers have been vocal about reinstating the men’s swimming team.

Some schools have more trouble complying with Title IX than others. In 2008, the College Sports Council did a study that showed how difficult it is for the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) to comply with Title IX’s proportionality standard. Many HBCUs have an undergraduate gender ratio of around 70 percent female to 30 percent male. Since proportionality requires that the gender ratio of a school’s varsity athletes mirror the gender ratio of its undergraduate population as a whole, that would mean that the average HBCU would need to field seven female varsity athletes for every three male athletes.

A recent case at Delaware State University, an HBCU in Vice President Biden’s home state, is a perfect example of how Title IX works. In 2009, DSU announced that it would end its wrestling and equestrian teams. The women on the equestrian team sued DSU and were reinstated, but Title IX afforded no such protection to the wrestlers, and their program disappeared. Somehow this is considered a triumph of gender equality.

The intent of Title IX is more than laudable. No one should be denied opportunities on the basis of his or her sex, and nobody wants to go back to the days when female athletes had to put up with poor facilities and limited opportunities to participate. But instead of letting demand drive colleges’ decisions (and with most student bodies around 60 percent female, they have a strong incentive to meet women’s needs), Title IX requires colleges to maintain an exact and artificial proportionality, regardless of whether male and female interest levels are the same (which they usually aren’t).

The long-term impact of the recent rollback is that colleges will continue to eliminate men’s teams in order to comply with Title IX’s gender quota. In the 2008–09 season, NCAA schools sponsored 9,560 teams for women and 8,465 teams for men. Look for that gap to grow in the future. And don’t expect many women’s gymnastics or tennis teams to be added: Their small rosters of highly experienced athletes are much less helpful than rowing teams, which have giant rosters filled with novice athletes who are able to “walk on” without any experience in the sport.

Even more alarming will be the effect on our secondary-school system. Look for the gender quota to appear soon at a high school near you. In 2008–09 about 4.4 million boys and 3.1 million girls participated in high-school sports. To make those numbers 50-50 could well require benching more than a million boys. Unfortunately for the next generation of boys, school administrators looking to avoid being sued by gender-quota activists will view cutting down the total number of male students playing high-school sports as a “no brainer.”

– Eric Pearson is chairman of the College Sports Council, a national coalition of coaches, parents, and athletes.

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