What's the best thing to happen to women's sports in the last decade? Title IX. And what's the worst?
The best, some say, because it was the biggest battering ram on the doors to the gyms. The worst, say others, because it was too much too soon -- or even downright unjustified.
Part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX is a terse, one-sentence declaration that no educational institution that receives federal money can discriminate on the basis of sex. But so controversial did that declaration become that the rules and regulations interpreting it fill 17 triple-column pages in the Federal Register and took more than three years to write.
Although it applies to all educational programs, Title IX has had the biggest impact on athletic programs, which have historically been sex-segregated past the elementary school level. Everyone might learn calculus and literature together, but when the gym bell rang the boys and the girls trooped off in different directions.
No longer -- or, at least, no longer legally. Since July 1978, all educational institutions in the United States which receive federal money have been required to provide comparable -- that's the key word -- athletic programs for male and female students or risk losing all federal funding. That includes sex-integrated physical education classes and proportional (another key word) funding for interscholastic and intercollegiate programs for males and females. It does notm mean matching budgets dollar for dollar, or men and women squaring off on the football field.
In practical terms virtually all colleges and public schools are affected -- and about three quarters of all private and parochial elementary and secondary schools.
Complying with Title IX also means that the facilities, equipment, coaching staff, and other accouterments of the program must be comparable for males and females.It's not a matter of counting basketballs, but of judging the entire program to achieve equality of opportunity, as the regulations say.
That's the sticky wicket. If the boys have a golf team, does there have to be a girls' team? Do the boys really want volleyball? Who gets the gym for basketball practice at 3 o'clock? Does everyone get to eat at the training table? And where will the money come from for this expanded program?
Grumblings about Title IX from every corner have not lessened over the years. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doesn't like it. Neither does the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA). The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) wishes it were enforced better. Some schools have moved willingly into compliance, others grudgingly. Many are still dragging their feet. It is still being fought over in court and is under review at the US Department of Education.
No one, not even the Department of Education, which is assigned the task of enforcing the regulations, knows how many schools now comply with Title IX's standards. The only way to gauge compliance, ironically, is by the number of complaints. Currently, there are around 150 complaints outstanding against 105 collegiate athletic programs, says Jane Glickman of the Department of Education. No one seems to know how many complaints of the 251 cases pending against elementary and secondary schools deal with athletics.
"There has never been a general compliance review on Title IX," says Sheri Sklorman of the Women's Equity Action League, adding that she feels the number of formal complaints seriously underrepresents the actual number of educational institutions that discriminate against women.
Despite its less-than-enthusiastic acceptance by some, Title IX has had a dramatic effect on athletic programs. In 1973, before it was put into effect, colleges offered women an average of 2.5 intercollegiate sports, compared with 7 .3 for men. By early 1979, the number for women doubled, while the number for men increased slightly to 7.4, according to figures compiled by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. During that time, the number of women playing intercollegiate sports also doubled, while the number of men held even. In high schools, the number of girls playing sports nearly tripled during the same years, the NFSHSA reports. Currently, about one-third of all interscholastic and intercollegiate athletes are females.
"It's the one piece of legislation with the greatest impact on women's sports ," says Doris Corbett, past president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
Men's programs, however, still receive the lion's share of the money, about 85.7 percent of the budget in 1978. ALAW figures for that year -- the most recent available -- show that its member institutions whose men's programs are in the NCAA's Division I spent an average of $2,156 on each woman, and $5,257 on each man. This, by the way, is a dramatic increase in proportion from 1973, when the men's program accounted for 97.9 percent of the budget.
One major objection to Title IX is its very application to the area of athletics. The Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education has taken the position that if any part of the school receives federal funds, the entire school must come up to Title IX standards. There are few schools that do not receive any federal money. Title IX opponents claim that that is a misinterpretation of the law, that only those programs that specifically receive federal funds are bound by the regulations. No athletic program receives federal financial aid directly. Thus, these opponents claim, no athletic program is liable under Title IX.
It is for this reason that the NCAA, the major governing body of men's intercollegiate sports, and the NFSHSA, which coordinates state programs for both girls' and boys' interscholastic sports, object to Title IX. In fact, the NCAA has a lawsuit pending against the Department of Education on these grounds.
"The Title IX suit is unrelated to whether you have good women's athletics or not," says Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA. "We believe the Title IX regulations and their means of implementation represented far more federal intrusion into the individual institutions than was necessary or warranted by the law." He concedes that this might be a difficult position for people to understand, in light of the NCAA's recent inception of women's championships, but maintains that it in no way hamstrings the organization's support of women's athletics.
"It's the overkill that we object to," says Thomas Hansen, assistant executive director, asserting that the government intrudes more into the area of athletics than any other part of education. He calls accepting Title IX "lying down to a federal intrusion that is unwarranted and misguided."
Warren Brown of the NFSHSA agrees, and adds, "Girls' sports were increasing before Title IX was even thought of. We're past the point of needing it."
Supporters of Title IX think otherwise. "Title IX is an important tool that we need to continue the growth of women's sports," says Patricia Harris, who works with a sex equity project at the University of Massachusetts.
These supporters also counter the position of the NCAA by claiming that if one program at a school receives federal money, that frees other funds to be used elsewhere, such as for athletics.
"Of course those federal funds benefit the whole school," sputters Margot Polivy, legal counsel for the AIAW.
That is the policy of the Department of Education. "Our argument is that the schoolm receives federal funds. . . . We have a right to say that it not discriminate in any of its programs," Jane Glickman says.
In February, a decision in Ann Arbor, Mich., sent waves of terror throught Title IX supporters when federal judge Charles Joiner decided that Title IX applied only to those individual programs that "receive direct Federal financial assistance," the first time a court has interpreted Title IX along these narrow lines, as the NCAA claims it should be.
Those waves subsided considerably in late April when the federal appeals court in the district that includes Ann Arbor decided that athletic programs in schools in Yellow Springs, Ohio, were subject to Title IX regulations. There, the schools were caught between trying to provide equal opportunity for both sexes under Title IX and a state athletic association rule that stood in the way. The school had to break one rule or another; the appeals court agreed with the lower court that providing equity took preference.
What is significant here, says Chuck Gurrier of the Women's Law Fund in Cleveland, is that both the Ann Arbor and the Yellow Springs schools receive the same kind of federal aid -- which suggests that since any appeal of the Ann Arbor decision would be heard by this same appeals court, that decision might have a very short life.
But the Department of Education is now reviewing its own regulations, in what Jane Glickman calls "a challenge to the scope of Title IX." Spurred by a Pennsylvania case not related to athletics, the department is taking another look at how it defines federal financial aid, to "reconsider and maybe overhaul the rules that bar sex discrimination, and how they apply," she says.
Meanwhile, complaints -- some of them eight years old --lodged against educational institutions languish. Although the Department of Education has been under court order since 1977 to follow a prescribed timetable in issuing findings on all complaints, the first settlement was announced just last month.
This, supporters maintain, explains in part why women's programs still have not reached equity: Title IX has never been enforced effectively.And because of that, they say, the threat of losing federal money has become a very weak one. (In fact, no school district or college has lost any funding because of Title IX.)
In a case settled last month with the University of Akron, nearly three years after all colleges and universities were to be in compliance with Title IX, the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education found that "the benefits, opportunities, and treatment provided to female athletes [there] are not equivalent to those provided to male athletes." But since the school is carrying out a solid plan to bring its program up to snuff "within a reasonable period of time," the Department of Education found it in compliance with Title IX (see accompanying box).
This is the tack the department plans to follow in settling other complaints: If the school has worked out an acceptable solution on its own, it will be left to its own devices. It not, the department will give it 60 days to come up with one. Only if the college balks completely or becomes uncooperative will enforcement procedures be started, which could eventually lead to loss of funding.
There is a move in Congress to repeal Title IX. Rep. George Hansen (R) of Idaho has introduced a "Family Protection Act" in the House of Representatives; among many other things, it would repeal Title IX. The Act states that it would "remove the matter of the sex-intermingling in school sports from the purview of the Department of Education and Justice Department bureaucrats, and place it in the lap of local school boards and authorities to decide according to the mores of the local community."
But Donna Lopiano, president of the AIAW, says the federal government became involved in this and other civil rights issues in the first place because change was not happening on a local level.
One thing both supporters and opponents of Title IX agree on: The Department of Education didn't offer much help to schools in figuring out what needed to be done. The list of dos and don'ts sets some practical guidelines, but there are no helpful hints for getting teachers and students to accept them -- especially in secondary schools where physical education classes affect everyone.
"Title IX has been implemented in a number of schools," says Dorothy McKnight. "They schedule coed classes and that's as far as they look." Ms. McKnight is the director of Project Missing Link at the Educational Sport Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., designed to assist secondary teachers in reducing sex-biased attitudes.
What needs to be done, she maintains, is to start with the teachers to change their perceptions of their students. Then their physical education classes are more likely to be places where both girls and boys can learn and participate together.
An effective class, she says, is one that takes each student at his or her skill level. Working in small groups -- similar to reading groups -- can help each student. Those who are more highly skilled can be taught to analyze the skill and then teach others. Everyone benefits, she says.
She dismisses the notion that it is unwise to have boys and girls in the same class because of the differences in physical strength. "You can have two boys of totally different sizes, shapes, and abilities," she points out. Teachers in either situation should structure the class to avoid obvious mismatches in abilities.
What do you do if you have 29 boys and 3 girls in one class?
"Teach 32 students," she snaps.
"No question -- these groups are more work for the teacher. But I've seen them work. I know they work."
One place where they seem to work quite well is Ridgewood, N.J. There, sex-integrated physical education classes have been the norm for nine years, started well in advance of Title IX requirements. Ridgewood began this program because it made better use of its staff and facilities, and because the educators felt it was only right that the sexes be treated equally, explains David Marsh, director of health and physical education for the system.
"It's a natural thing. They don't give it a second thought," says Joseph Guidetti, a junior high school guidance counselor, as he watches boys and girls thwack to the floor practicing self-defense.
"They work harder," Kathy Murren, a physical education teacher, says. "They're more open to trying things being offered to both."
Physical education classes in Ridgewood are sex-integrated at every level, and students are gradually given more and more opportunity as they grow older to select the sports they want to learn -- including everything from weightlifting to jogging to ballet. Six boys --good athletes, says Ms. Murren -- are learning plies and releves.
"The boys like it more with girls," Mr. Guidetti says. "They get a different perspective on things."
And the girls feel more accepted, says Ms. Murren, more open to trying things offered to both boys and girls.
There was opposition at the start, both from parents who worried about their daughters and teachers who weren't sure what to do next.
"Half the women and two-thirds of the men were opposed when we started," says Richard Flechtner, athletic director at Ridgewood High School, of his staff. "But once they got their feet into it, they accepted it. None would want to go back now."
The students seem to like it, too. When asked how they felt about sex-integrated classes, 64 percent responded positively, says David Marsh.
There are some complaints from teachers and students. The more skilled boys might not be challenged. The girls might lose out on opportunities for leadership in mixed classes. The less skilled boy might be embarrassed by being beaten by a girl.
These are all situations that a skillful teacher can alleviate, Dorothy McKnight insists.
Participation in the interscholastic program at Ridgewood High School is about evenly split between boys and girls (the national average is two boys for every girl), which indicates to Richard Flechtner that girls are just as eager to play sports as boys, if given the chance.
"And as these girls come out of this program, they're not going to be content to go somewhere where they're nothing," he adds. "They're going to force the colleges to give them more."
Tomorrow: Power plays with the colleges