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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.

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The law itself, notes Professor Schneider, who teaches sport management at The College at Brockport in New York, “receives an ‘A.’ Enforcement of the law receives a ‘C.’ And depending on the university, following the letter and spirit of the law ranges from an ‘A’ to an ‘F.’ ” Some universities adhere completely to it, he notes, while “others make every effort to circumvent it.”

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From its inception, opponents such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms, sought to eliminate it. Title IX has fought off attempts to weaken it in the courts, in Congress, and in the executive branch, says Erin Buzuvis, professor of law at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., and co-founder of The Title IX Blog.

“It endures a constant barrage of misinformation promoting the myth that Title IX’s gains have come at the expense of men,” she notes via e-mail. For instance, though men’s athletic opportunities have, like women’s, steadily increased over the last 40 years, many blame Title IX for the fact that some schools and colleges choose to concentrate men’s athletic opportunities in the large-roster sport of football rather than offer men a more diverse array of opportunities.

Those who have labored in the trenches from the law’s inception say it has been worth the fight.

“We used Title IX as a way to push for what we deserved,” says Vicki Staton, the former Washington & Jefferson College head women’s basketball and volleyball coach, who coached from 1975 to 2003.

In 1975, she was one of the few coaches in western Pennsylvania recruiting at a time when local high schools did not provide for women to play sports. “There were many nights when I would think to myself ‘What am I doing this for?’ ”

She says she once asked a local sports reporter, “ ‘Why don’t you cover our team?’ and his response was ‘C’mon, it’s women’s sports.’ ” Ten years later, she says, “his daughter attended my youth basketball camp.”

“It’s been a long process, she says, “but we have always just been fighting for a chance to participate and showcase the athletic skills young women possess. Without Title IX, I don’t think that would have ever been possible.”

Education about the law is the ball that was dropped from the start, says Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor of Sport Management at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who co-authored a 2010-11 study of some 1,100 coaches and athletic directors to determine their knowledge of Title IX.

This was the first study of its kind, she points out, and notes that “we found that there was very little actual grasp of the specific requirements of the law.” One of the most important requirements – a Title IX coordinator at every school to facilitate programs for every constituency – “was simply never done,” she says, adding, “and so the kind of mass education that was supposed to happen around Title IX never took place.”

It is not enough for the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights to say schools do not have to cut men’s sports to be in compliance with the law, she says, adding, “while that is true, that is not sufficient to get people to believe otherwise.”

The proof is in the numbers, she says.

In a typical elite Division I school, some 80 percent of all sports funds go to two men’s sports, football and basketball. On the other hand, she notes that at a typical Division 3 school, 70 percent of money for men’s sports goes to a wide array, with only 30 percent spent on those two sports.

“Those are administration decisions, not Title IX,” she says, so the sooner “we begin to have a more accurate discussion about Title IX, the healthier it will be for the next generation.” 

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