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40 years later, Title IX is still fighting perception it hurt men's sports

Mention Title IX and most people think of its impact on college athletic programs, primarily, say coaches, because it is blamed for cuts in men's sports. Supporters say that's a bum rap.

By Staff writer / June 23, 2012

Members of the New Trier High School girls' soccer team prepare for a game in the Illinois High School Association girls' soccer tournament in Skokie, Ill. Girls like these are reaping the benefits of Title IX, the federal amendment that opened up sports opportunities to girls and women 40 years ago.

Martha Irvine/AP

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Los Angeles

Say “Title IX” – the landmark gender equality legislation marking its 40th anniversary June 23 – and most folks these days will respond, “sports.”

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While this “little statute” – one small provision in an omnibus education bill – actually targets parity across the entire education landscape, for most people it has become inextricably linked with its impact on school athletic programs.

That’s largely because, say many coaches and athletic directors who have weathered these years, Title IX has often been blamed for cuts in men’s programs. But, supporters say, that is a bum rap.

“There are many myths and preconceptions about Title IX that hinder its effectiveness,” says Metropolitan State College’s Joan McDermott, in Denver, a rare female athletic director at the higher education level and a veteran of the battles over changes required by the law.

“That’s because when a men’s sport gets dropped, most people say, it’s because of Title IX when that’s just not true,” she says. “It’s because of budget choices by the administration, so that’s an ongoing rap that Title IX gets.”

The Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education has guidelines for compliance with Title IX, the main one of which requires sports participation that is proportional to the gender balance in the school’s population. But according to the American Sports Council (ASC) in Washington, a nonprofit coalition of coaches, parents, and athletes, Title IX hurts men’s sports, in part due to this requirement.

“When schools have too few female athletes (i.e., the percentage of females enrolled exceed the percentage of athletes), they’re presumed noncompliant. They’re then forced to create the illusion of substantial proportionality by denying men the opportunity to participate,” writes ASC advisory board member Karen Owoc, on the nonprofit’s website.

This means, she continues, that many women’s teams have not been helped, “but rather, men have been hurt.”

The Fairness in Sports Foundation site catalogues a long list of men’s programs that have been cut, it states, due to Title IX requirements.

The numbers however, tell a different story. Regarding collegiate sports, Title IX focuses on access and participation. In a list of FAQ’s on its website seeking to refute allegations that Title IX has hurt men’s athletics, the NCAA points out that since the law's inception, both male and female participation in college sports have increased.

Just between 2002 and 2011, the NCAA says, the number of men in college sports increased by 38,482 between 2002 and 2011. During that same period, the number of females went up by less, some 32,662.

The NCAA also points out that nonrevenue men’s sports are often cut to provide more funds for the two big revenue sports, football and basketball. In 2006, for instance, Rutgers University dropped men's tennis, a team with a budget of approximately $175,000. The National Women's Law Center points out that Rutgers spent about $175,000 in the same year on hotel rooms for the football team – for home games.

The biggest ongoing misconception about Title IX is that it's a law against men, says Robert Schneider, author of the textbook, "Ethics of Sport and Athletics: Theories, Issues, and Practice." In fact, he says via e-mail from Turkey, where he is presenting a paper on Title IX at a conference, “it's a law that requires universities to make choices as to the sports they will offer for men and women in a way that allows for equal participation by both men and women.

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