Not Just an Empty Title

After unproductive report from commission, much work remains to be done on Title IX

The Commission on Opportunities in Athletics’ purpose seemed quite clear: to study public commentary and material from colleges concerning Title IX compliance, and to issue detailed recommendations on how to improve its implementation.

The commission has failed in its primary goal—advising U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige on ways to clarify Title IX’s practical implementation. Since the adoption of the legislation in 1972, this issue has been a subject of endless debate for courts, coaches and congressional representatives alike. On the largest question facing the commission—how schools should distribute funding—there were several proposals. One was to split funding 50-50 between men’s and women’s teams; another would distribute funding based on interest in various sports. But the 15-member group dodged most of the contentious questions altogether.

While evading the tough issues, the commission did take appropriate stances on a couple of those that it did consider. They voted down a regressive resolution that would have recommended replacing the present guideline—basing athletic opportunities on the proportion of males and females enrolled at a school—with one founded on interest surveys. Such a survey-based gauge of interest could slowly dismantle women’s sports, which have traditionally had lower participation and interest than men’s sports, but which could further suffer if funding and opportunities are scaled back.

These recommendations are not binding on Paige. And because of the commission’s lax approach to these important matters, he has much more legwork to do, but can take advantage of the expansive Title IX research collected by government research groups like Congress’s General Accounting Office, and also by credible private groups, both liberal and conservative.

There are a couple of clear fundamentals that Paige should keep in mind when tinkering with the intricacies of the statute’s enforcement. First, he must do the best he can to protect men’s sports while promoting equality. The method to achieve true equality in schools is not to decrease the number of opportunities for men—thereby giving everyone a meager, albeit equal, selection of sports. The solution is to create a new mechanism for compliance that relies on providing more funding to female sports without doing away with men’s opportunities to participate on teams like wrestling, which often faces elimination under the status quo.

Furthermore, while Title IX has worked brilliantly in some parts of the country, where men’s and women’s sports have finally reached equality, there are vast disparities in the enforcement of Office of Civil Rights guidelines in different regions. For example, while women’s field hockey often balances out men’s wrestling in a New England school, men’s athletics, namely football, routinely dominates women’s sports in states like Texas.

There is no doubt that Title IX needs some revisions on its 30th birthday, but the commission appointed for that purpose has done little to help Secretary Paige achieve that goal.