Panel suggests Title IX changes


Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 30, 2003 at 11:19 p.m.
A sharply divided Bush administration advisory commission voted Thursday to recommend changes to a landmark gender-equity law that had substantially increased women's participation in sports, but the proposals stopped short of the major overhaul some women's advocates feared.
The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics considered two dozen recommendations for Title IX during two days of sometimes contentious meetings. The most sweeping recommendations were defeated, and the panel deadlocked 7-7 on a proposal to make a major change.
That proposal called for altering the requirement that the ratio of male and female athletes at colleges and universities be roughly the same as the overall student body.
Ann Marie Rogers, the associate athletic director for women's athletics at the University of Florida, expressed relief Thursday that no significant changes were proposed in the way schools measure proportionality of athletic participation.
"Most of the schools haven't yet achieved proportionality," she said, "so I think to start tinkering with it now would have been a mistake."
The commission will forward a report to Education Secretary Rod Paige, who will consider changes to Title IX. It takes an act of Congress to fundamentally change the law, but Paige can alter the way compliance is measured.
University of Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who proposed the recommendation that produced the tie, said she's satisfied because under commission rules the deadlock means it still goes into the report. After Yow's proposal failed to pass, several more changes that would have altered or eliminated Title IX's fundamental proportionality standard were defeated.
Instead, the commission voted to tinker with the standard, recommending changes in the ways students and athletes are counted to measure compliance.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Its effect has been profound: The number of girls participating in high school sports rose from 294,000 to 2.8 million from 1971 to 2002. The number of women in college sports increased fivefold during the same time frame.
The law was clarified in 1979 with the introduction of the "three-prong" test, which gave schools the option of meeting any single element to be in compliance:
  • A school's male-female athlete ratio must be "substantially proportionate" to its male-female enrollment.
  • The school must show an ongoing history of broadening opportunities for women.
  • A school must show that it is "fully and effectively" accommodating the interests and abilities of women.
    The first prong gets the most attention, and it's the only one that can be met using pure statistics with little or no subjective interpretation.
    Even so, there is still a substantial gap between the percentage of U.S. female college students (56 percent) and the percentage of female college athletes (42 percent).
    UF relies on the second prong for Title IX compliance, Rogers said, noting that it's unclear in the existing law how long a university "can hang its hat" on showing "an ongoing history of broadening opportunities for women."
    Although UF has a better record than most schools, its athletic opportunities for women are not directly proportional to the student body. Forty-five percent of UF's intercollegiate athletes are women, as compared with 52 percent of the student body.
    With the addition of women's soccer, in the 1995-96 school year, and softball in the 1996-97 term, UF has dramatically increased its opportunities for women's sports, from 27.8 percent in the 1994-95 school year to the 45 percent today.
    For the past year, the University Athletic Association has been considering adding another women's sport, Rogers said. An announcement of which sport will be added will likely be announced after the stadium expansion project is completed, she said.
    Among those under consideration are lacrosse, water polo, equestrian and crew.
    Yow amended her plan to try to get it passed. It called for schools to be allowed a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the student body makeup, with a leeway of 2 to 3 percentage points.
    Commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, was among those who voted against the plan. She said she doesn't believe the commission's mandate was to change proportionality and favors stronger enforcement of the existing law.
    The commission voted down several other proposals, the most sweeping of which would have eliminated the "proportionality" requirement. It failed 11-4.
    Lindsey Miner, a UF senior gymnast, said student-athletes appreciate what Title IX has done to help provide opportunities for women, and she's glad no major changes were approved.
    "I think it's worked thus far," Miner said. "There might be a better solution out there, a better idea, but so far I think it's working."
    Critics say proportionality has forced schools to cut male sports to meet the ratio requirement. Roughly 400 men's college teams were eliminated in the 1990s, with wrestling taking such a blow that the National Wrestling Coaches Association has filed suit, claiming that the first prong has evolved into a quota system.
    UF, which has one of the 20 to 30 Division IA Athletic Associations that turn a profit, has elected to add women's sports rather than cut opportunities for men.
    Roger said, "We are fortunate that we've had great support by alumni - and attendance of course at football - that have helped us finance all of our sports and give them everything they need."
    The Associated Press contributed to this report. Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 or millerc@gvillesun.com.
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