(WOMENSENEWS)–College wrestlers and their coaches are suing the government, claiming a federal law banning sex discrimination in sports and academics weakens men’s athletics at universities. They claim the only way to adhere to the requirement is to trim programs for male students.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, blames a 1996 rule clarifying the Title IX statute — a law that’s been credited with transforming women’s athletics. The legislation applies to any school or college that receives federal funding.
Schools can comply with the statute by showing that opportunities for women are “substantially proportionate” to their enrollment. They can also show that opportunities correspond to the level of students’ interest or that new teams are being added.
But over the last decade, 350 men’s programs have been cut, said Eric Pearson, co-chairman of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Those losses, he said, have come in less revenue-generating sports, such as swimming, wrestling, track-and-field and gymnastics. Women’s rights advocates have generally argued that the colleges should cut the large budgets for football rather than eliminate the other men’s teams.
Although many lawsuits have been filed unsuccessfully against individual schools for trimming certain programs, the NWCA suit challenges the rules themselves, alleging they were adopted illegally and asking the court to force the government to write new ones, basing opportunities on interest, rather than enrollment.
“Capping a male athlete off a team or cutting an entire men’s team solely because not enough female students have an interest in athletics is gender discrimination per se–with absolutely no corresponding benefit to women,” the suit says.
But Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said the law’s requirements are not as rigid as the suit claims. Several studies have demonstrated that most schools comply with the statute without cutting men’s teams, and that men’s participation in athletics has actually increased.