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Hands Off Title IX! 

King Football's clout hurts other men's programs

So Happy Birthday, Title IX. You just celebrated 30 years, but by most accounts, you're still a babe in the woods. A lot of people don't want to understand you, or they simply think you're so malleable they can change one of the simple premises you stand for -- equality of opportunity in scholastic sports.I hope they're dead wrong.

After three decades, you'd think that Title IX would be so embedded in the national psyche that colleges and universities wouldn't still be discriminating (they are), some men in non-revenue collegiate sports wouldn't be pointing the finger at Title IX when they lose funding (they are), and football wouldn't be a sacred cow on campuses (it is).

So what gives? Title IX, signed into law June 23, 1972 by President Richard Nixon, calls for gender equity in education, including sports programs. Despite an episodic history, the law is the big reason there has been a boom in girls and women playing sports over the last three decades -- from less than 30,000 on the college level three decades ago to more than 150,000 today.

Still, on average at the largest schools, women are receiving less than men in scholarship money as well as money to run their programs. According to the NCAA, a Division I school, on average, spent $85,900 in 1999-2000 on their women's programs. Their men received more than double that -- $184,200. The same year, male athletes averaged $1.4 million in scholarships at each Division I institution, while women averaged $1 million.

Just recently, The National Women's Law Center identified hundreds of universities that don't give women athletes their fair share of scholarship money, which should be roughly equal to the female participation level at the school. The center singled out a broad cross-section of 30 schools to show the gap, which amounted to $6.5 million for these schools alone in the 2000-2001 school year.

From the beginning, Title IX has been tenuous. Not until Congress overrode a veto by President Ronald Reagan and passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act in 1988 did Title IX regain its clout -- stipulating that if an institution receives federal funds, it must offer equitable sports opportunities for men and women. Earlier, the Supreme Court had confined the law to only programs that received federal money.

During the 1970s and 1980s, most schools added female sports, but rare was the institution that treated their men's and women's programs equally. Many college athletic administrators didn't get that concept until after females successfully sued schools and school systems under Title IX in the early 1990s.

So, we've had less than a decade in which administrators really knew the score -- either provide equitable athletic teams for women or risk tens of thousands of dollars in legal judgments.

Because of this stop-start history, I can hardly contain my anger that Title IX is once again coming under fire -- this time from men who coach wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and other non-revenue sports who claim their programs have been cut to give women a piece of the athletic pie at their institutions.

They are absolutely wrong to point their fingers at Title IX. What they need to look at are the spineless athletic directors who have used Title IX as a scapegoat. As the cost of running athletic programs has risen dramatically in the last two decades, athletic directors have used the cost of adding women's athletics as the poor excuse for cutting men's teams, even when they weren't actually adding any new women's programs. I'm talking in particular about the 1980s, when many non-revenue men's programs were cut and few women's teams were being added during the Reagan era. In other words, male-dominated athletic programs were incurring rising costs in general -- mainly in football and basketball -- and non-revenue men's teams took the hit.

The National Wrestling Coaches Associationis now suing to water down Title IX because the coaches believe Title IX is responsible for eliminating most of the 170 wrestling programs that have been dropped during the past decade or so. Not true. The wrestling coaches need to refocus on "King Football." Not only does football gobble up most of the money (only a tiny number of programs make a profit), it gives so many opportunities to men -- 85 scholarships per school are allowed at the Division 1-A level -- that it has a disproportionate share of male athletic opportunities. If a university's student body is about 50-50 men and women, then their athletic opportunities are supposed to reflect a similar proportion. You can imagine how football's 85 scholarships throw everything out of whack for other men's sports.

I suspect the wrestling coaches figured they'd lose a battle against football so they went after what they perceive as an easier target -- women and Title IX. The Bush Administration gave early signals about possibly mitigating Title IX and has yet to stake itself out as a strong supporter. Though the Bush Justice Department filed a motion asking a federal court to dismiss the wrestling coaches' suit, it was careful to say it was doing so on "technicalities," that the law necessitates suing individual schools, not the government, as the coaches proposed. So how does the administration really feel? Stay tuned.

Reining in football would go a long way to relieving the pressure on balancing men's and women's sports opportunities at the college level. Allowing 85 scholarships is ridiculous, even given the sport's high injury rate and special teams. Pro teams only carry 53 on their rosters. If the NCAA would reduce the allowable number to say 55 or 60, that would free up 25 to 30 spots for other male athletes. It would also free up more money for other sports because football wouldn't cost as much.

"It could be done, absolutely, without hurting the sport (football)," says UNC-Charlotte Athletic Director Judy Rose. "I said years ago that it would make Title IX less painful to implement and would not pit men and women against each other."

Rose, whose career was boosted by Title IX when she became UNC-Charlotte's first women's basketball coach, says she wouldn't jeopardize existing men's and women's teams if UNCC began a football program.

"I would not add it at the expense of the existing program," she says. "If we started a football team, we would have to add more women's sports to be in compliance (with Title IX). That will be the approach as long as I'm athletic director, and that's the approach Chancellor Woodward would take. Adding football all boils down to money."

Rose's philosophy to make the athletic pie bigger -- that is, raise more money to add more sports and not cut teams to accommodate new ones -- is getting tougher and tougher, though.

"We feel like we're in an arms race, not just in scholarship dollars but in facilities," she says. "Price tabs are in the millions of dollars whether you're make improvements or building new facilities. It's keeping up with the Joneses. As you well know, coaches in revenue-producing sports like men's basketball, football and to a degree women's basketball, are getting million-dollar contracts. This money issue is huge."

Money is really what it all comes down to -- coaches and teams fighting for their fair share of the budget. Football has been allowed to rule the roost too long. It's time to rein it in. Dropping the number of scholarships at the football powerhouses will give the sport more competitive depth, just as it has in Division 1-A men's basketball since scholarships were reduced from 15 to 13 some years back. Let's be clear about a couple of things: Title IX does not call for quotas for women's teams or for eliminating men's sports, as detractors claim. Title IX has given girls and women a fragile foothold in the athletic world. Rather than throwing the law out, it needs to be more fully enforced; things are still far from equitable. Athletic directors and college presidents need to tell football to come down from the mountain.

Title IX, your 30th birthday is bittersweet. Opportunity has grown dramatically for girls and women, but the battle for equity rages on.

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