Only First Lap for Title IX

The best way to prepare for an athletic contest is through lengthy training. Few athletes - male or female - would expect to perform well going into a contest without months or years of preparation.

Thanks largely to Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1972, increasing participation in athletics by women is proving women's sports is getting closer to "game ready."

But some advocates of men's sports are complaining about Title IX. While they support equal opportunity in athletics, they say too many schools cut men's athletic programs, especially swimming and wrestling, just to meet what they call a "quota" for women. They argue that female students, overall as a group, still show less interest in participating in athletics than men, even with the steady growth of women's sports.

Last year, the Department of Education set up a panel to recommend changes in how the law is regulated. That panel voted last week to make only minor adjustments. But its work left both critics and proponents of Title IX unhappy.

Critics say the panel didn't go far enough. Proponents worry that even small deviations from current standards open the door for schools to make less effort (or lackluster efforts) to ensure that women receive equal opportunity on the playing field.

Indeed, it seems an odd time to fix something that has brought so much success to women's sports. This week alone, Duke University held its first sold-out women's basketball game when its team played No. 2 UConn. Pro golfers Suzy Whaley and Annika Sorenstam are creating a buzz by talk of the women playing on the men's PGA Tour. Soccer in the United States has already proved that not only are girls interested in playing sports, fans are interested in watching them.

But amid all the success, remember only one generation of women has grown up under the protection of Title IX. And only in the past five years or so has an abundance of female-athlete role models blossomed.

Men's minor sports deserve their concerns addressed, too. But the onus should fall on athletics departments. A tough review of how they divide up their budget among all men's teams is needed.

While regulations should be refined from time to time, Congress must work to ensure that any changes to Title IX by the Education Department are not a backward step. Women may not yet be participating in sports at the same levels as men, but give them and Title IX more time.

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