Two Olympic gold medalists on the Title IX commission criticized proposals that would weaken the landmark law. The two women athletes argued the law should be preserved or strengthened instead.

Athena Yiamouyiannis

(WOMENSENEWS)–Amidst a flurry of criticism generated after two members of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics refused to sign proposed changes to Title IX, Education Secretary Rod Paige said Wednesday that he will not consider certain controversial proposals to alter the landmark legislation. Earlier in the day, the commission had given Paige its recommendations for changes to Title IX.

Also on Wednesday, commissioners and Olympic gold medalists Donna de Varona and Julie Foudy issued a minority report expressing their discontent with the commission’s final proposals and recommending that Title IX "be preserved without change." They declined to sign the commission’s final suggestions. The release of the minority report was followed just hours later by Secretary Paige’s decision to only consider recommendations which received unanimous support from the commission.

However, Secretary Paige did not withdraw the commission’s recommended use of interest surveys to estimate how many girls are available to participate in sports. Although the commission initially agreed on the use of interest surveys, Foudy and de Varona withdrew their support after recognizing that interest surveys make women and girls prove their desire to play sports before being given a chance to participate.

The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics was established by Secretary Paige, a Bush appointee, to determine whether Title IX needs to be updated for the 21st century. Proponents of Title IX also argue that, if accepted, the commission’s recommendations could result in the loss of thousands of slots on teams for female athletes and millions of scholarship dollars.

The Save Title IX campaign, a project of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, projects that the proposals would cost high school girls 305,000 participation opportunities; college women would miss out on 50,000 participation opportunities and $122 million dollars in athletic scholarships.

Among the recommendations abandoned are proposals which would have allowed schools to: count the number of spots available on teams rather than the number of actual players; not count "walk-on" players, usually male students, who do not receive scholarships but still enjoy the full benefits of being on the team; not count "non-traditional" students–predominately female students–such as undergraduates outside the 18-24 age range and students with children, as part of the over-all student body.

These proposals were seen by some as methods for schools to artificially inflate the proportion of female athletes to male athletes in order to meet gender equity requirements. Supporters of Title IX are applauding their deletion from the recommendations President Bush will receive.

However, they remain deeply concerned about Paige’s apparent intention to recommend to President Bush regarding the college’s desires to rely on simply asking their female students if they are interested in participating in sports.

"The use of interest surveys is particularly troubling," said Athena Yiamouyiannis of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport. "The Brown [University] court case specifically indicated that you cannot use interest surveys for this purpose and it is basically illegal."

Brown University was sued for non-compliance with Title IX when it cut two successful women’s sports teams. The university appealed the case using surveys designed to gauge students’ interest in athletics. It claimed that the results of the surveys proved that women students were less interested in sports than men. However, appeals court judges disagreed, saying that interest surveys do not provide an accurate measure of women’s interest in sports, but instead only demonstrate the discrimination that has led to women’s lack of athletic opportunities. Brown was forced to re-instate the teams it cut, but did not lose any federal funds.

In their report, Foudy and de Varona said interest surveys force female athletes to "prove their right to equal opportunity," and the use of such surveys will only further discrimination because it "rests on the stereotyped notion that women are inherently less interested in sports than men–a notion that contradicts Title IX and fundamental principles of civil rights law." Foudy and de Varona also note that "courts have repeatedly recognized" that interest surveys reflect lack of opportunity and discrimination against girls in sports rather than "interest that exists when girls are given unfettered opportunities to play."

Many Title IX proponents are blaming the Department of Education for putting together what they say was a biased group of commissioners. Of the 15 commissioners, 10 were linked with large universities, which, according to the National Women’s Law Center, are "the schools with the greatest institutional interest in weakening Title IX."

In their minority report, Foudy and de Varona cited various problems in the commission’s process, including the omission of representatives of high school athletics, failure to examine potential remedies for discrimination against women and girls and profound imbalance of viewpoints in panelist testimonies. The panelists who spoke to the commission argued two-to-one against Title IX as it stands, and while no testimonies were given from victims of discrimination or females whose teams were cut, five panelists were from schools whose failure to meet the terms of Title IX resulted in lawsuits.

At Issue Is Proportionality Rule

Title IX was passed in 1972 to compel schools and colleges at all levels that receive federal funds to provide women and men with equal opportunities to participate in all educational activities, including sports.

Currently, Title IX compliance is measured in three different ways: "participation," "scholarships," and "other benefits." The participation aspect requires that opportunities for women to play sports must be equal to opportunities for men. The scholarships portion requires that athletic scholarship dollars should be proportional to the athletic participation of each gender. Other benefits, such as coaching, travel expenses, equipment, and facility quality must also be proportional.

The participation aspect of Title IX is the most controversial. Schools may indicate they have obeyed the law by fulfilling one prong of a three-pronged test. The first prong–the one most often challenged by opponents of Title IX–is often referred to as the "proportionality rule," although critics sometimes refer to it as a "quota" rule. This requires that the ratio of female students to male students should be similar to the ratio of female athletes to male athletes. If institutions don’t meet the requirements for the first prong, they may fulfill the second prong by showing that they are attempting to institute more opportunities in sports for the underrepresented gender or may satisfy the third prong by demonstrating that they have accommodated the skills and interests of both genders.

Blaming Title IX for the Loss of Men’s Teams

Far from supporting the loosening of the standards, commissioners Foudy and de Varona believe that the law needs to be followed more stringently, not weakened, and discrimination should be "investigated and addressed in an effective and timely way."

The penalty for not following Title IX is loss of federal funds; however, no school has ever lost funding because of non-compliance, despite the fact that most institutions do not comply with the law. Despite guidelines, female undergraduates receive on average only 36 percent of athletic operating budgets and 32 percent of money spent on recruiting.

Although most men’s athletic coaches support women’s athletics, many believe that changes to Title IX are absolutely necessary–in part because the athletic budget either has to expand to provide more opportunities for female students or financial support for men’s sports must shrink.

"I think Title IX was put in place for the right reasons," said New York University head wrestling coach Bruce Haberli. Haberli, like many coaches, believes that sports programs should be based on interest level, not gender.

"Most coaches support the thought that there should be more opportunities for females in athletics, but the current system results in cutting men’s teams."

However, Title IX proponents say sports like wrestling and men’s gymnastics are being cut because of lack of interest and extravagant spending on more visible sports such as football and basketball. Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist told the commission that the greatest decline in the number of men’s wrestling teams happened between 1982 and 1992, when there was little enforcement of Title IX. Men’s gymnastics teams also experienced large drops during this period. Zimbalist claims that football also takes more than its fair share of the athletic budget, leaving insufficient funding for other sports.

"Football does not need 85 scholarships," Zimbalist told the commission. "Sixty would do fine." He added the professional teams only have 45 members, plus 7 on reserve, and the average large university team has 32 "walk-ons" plus 85 scholarship players. If football scholarships were cut to 60, Zimbalist argued, the average college would save approximately $750,000 annually, enough to finance more than two wrestling teams, whose average cost is $330,000 per team."

Zimbalist also says salaries for coaches at large universities are too high.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association "should seek a congressional antitrust exemption with regard to coaches’ salaries," he said, adding "dozens" of men’s football and basketball coaches are paid $1 million or more. "Knock them down to $200,000 (which would put them above 99 percent of the faculty) and colleges would be able to add another three to six sports," he told the commission.

Jill Filipovic is a Women’s Enews intern.



For more information:

Save Title IX:

Women’s Sports Foundation–
Your Rights and Title IX:

National Women’s Law Center–