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NATIONAL | summer 2003

Title IX: The Deregulation Ploy

Ms. Summer 2003

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Title IX Update: Women’s Rights Groups Win Title IX Victory>>

Unable to cut down Title IX through the courts or legislation—though not for lack of trying over the past three decades—conservatives have again turned their attention toward weakening the law's regulations. This time it's the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, stacked with Title IX opponents, quibbling over how to interpret compliance. Issuing its final report in February, the commission urged a series of subtle but radical changes that could severely reduce sports opportunities for women and girls.

In protest, two commissioners, Julie Foudy, co-captain of the U.S. National Womeds Soccer Team, and Donna de Varona, two-time Olympic swimming gold medalist—both former presidents of the Women's Sports Foundation—issued their own minority report. According to Foudy and de Varona, the commission focused too heavily on the law's alleged harm to male sports opportunities, rather than the need for better enforcement to increase women’s opportunities.

Enacted in 1972, Title IX forbids discrimination in federally funded education programs, and is credited with boosting women’s involvement in high school and college sports [see next page], as well as in medical and law schools. Despite rumblings to the contrary, participation by boys and men in school sports has increased as well—a net gain of 36 men's collegiate teams between 1982 and 1999.

After receiving tens of thousands of e-mails from Title IX supporters, Secretary of Education Roderick Paige, who appointed the commission, said that he would implement only its unanimous recommendations. Foudy and de Varona contest this, however, because Paige's definition of “unanimous” included two far-reaching recommendations that they oppose.

One would give the Department of Education a blank check to devise alternatives for schools to comply with Tide IX, rather than limit them to the current three options for compliance. The most popular of these three compliance tests, proportionality, requires a school to prove that the number of opportunities it offers women is in proportion to women’s presence in the student body, although it is not a strict quota.

Title IX opponents suggest that proportionality be replaced with "interest surveys," in which women would have to prove their interest before being offered opportunities. But as the Foudy/de Varona report points out, "'What interest surveys measure is the discrimination that has limited opportunities for girls and women to participate in sports—not the interest that exists when girls are given unfettered opportunity to play."

Title IX opponents blame proportionality for "forcing" colleges to cut men's teams in the so-called minor sports, such as wrestling and golf, in order to afford women's sports. However, the hefty, out-of-proportion budgets of men’s football and basketball are more often the driving force behind these decisions.

Division IA college football teams have 85 scholarships to give out, and that is 40 players more than most professional football teams carry. According to Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, if those teams were to cut back their football scholarships to even 60, the average college would save $750,000 a year—enough to pay for two wrestling teams.

Although de Varona and Foudy were able to derail specific recommendations that would have replaced proportionality with interest-based measures, the proportionality test remains under threat. One recommendation still under consideration is to keep the test but allow an undefined “reasonable variance."

Title IX supporters point out that even a seemingly small variance of 3.5 percent could cost young women an estimated 400,000 high school sports opportunities nationwide, while a 7 percent variance (changing proportions from 50-50 to 53.5-46.5) could cost one million opportunities.

Despite 30 years of achievement, women and girls still have not reached the equality promised by Title IX—a point neither addressed or acknowledged by the commission's majority report. And it is lack of opportunity, not lack of interest, that's the problem, according to the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education, which represents an array of women's groups working to save Title IX and strengthen its enforcement.

"When women and girls gain opportunities, they flood onto the field,” says Jacqueline Woods, executive director of the American Association of University Women.

Congressional Title IX supporters have also joined the fray. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), backed by a large bipartisan group from the House of Representatives, has introduced a resolution calling on Secretary Paige to just leave Title IX alone.