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Lost in the Bureaucratic Sludge

Rocket Bob

By Robert O. Boorstin

I tried to find it. I looked everywhere. I really did. But the bureaucrats beat me.

Title IX, you might or might not recall, was born back in 1972 when the folks down in Washington decided that men and women ought to have equal opportunities to participate in athletics. Last December, in an attempt to explain these regulations, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare--that giant bureaucratic machine which oversees Title IX -- issued more regulations. Those new proposals were originally scheduled to go into effect in April; then HEW said in July; but now, sad to say nobody in Washington seems to know when they will take effect.

There are two things to remember about the new proposals. The first is the portion requiring universities "to expend equal average per capita amouts of money for male and female participants." Confused? So was I. And when I asked Joe Mathis, spokesman in HEW's Office of Civil Rights, to tell me what was going on, he told me it means "proportionately equal average per capita spending." In English, that means that if Harvard spends $300,000 for its athletic program involving 300 men, it must also spend $150,000 for an athletic program involving 150 women.

The second thing to remember: all athletic expenditures--including those for very expensive football and basketball programs--must count in the total pool. So, that means you've got to add it all up--football and hockey and track and field hockey and everything else--and make sure every man and woman athlete gets an equal share.

The new regulations, which the NCAA described as a "major departure" from previous proposals, have raised quite a fuss. Large universities--investing hideous amounts of money in football and basketball programs, they claimed, would die. Coaches of revenue-producing sports--read: football, basketball ad nauseum--were outraged. Meanwhile, women athletic directors and athletes were outraged that the college coaches and directors were outraged. While everybody argued, HEW declared a "comment period" of four months in which anybody with anything to say about the problem would speak his/her piece. And 750 groups did, some with letters as long as 40 pages.

In the midst of all this, Harvard quietly went about its business, delcaring an offer to join ranks with a large group of colleges that didn't like the regulations. The University, officials said, already meets Title IX requirements. The new proposals "don't really affect us," says Robin Schmidt, vice president for government and community affairs. So Harvard let the Ivy League do its talking, signing a letter to HEW that asked for "flexibility."

All this, of course, didn't really mean much. The gut problem is fairly simple: Does equal opportunity, as Title IX spells it out, also mean equal spending?

Some people say yes. Like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which recently reversed itself on the matter. Include all expenditure that men's and women's programs get equal treatment.

Some people say no. Like NCAA director Bill Flynn, who doubles as athletic director over at Boston College. Although he admits "I don't know much about it," Flynn has an opinion. Equal opportunity does not mean equal spending. He offers an analogy. "You don't say, 'You have to spend as much on men nurses as women nurses.'" Like our own football coach, Joe Restic. "Once you totally equalize it, you're not going to have a football program." He continues, "If you expect a sport to produce revenue, you can't cut back on the money for that program."

Some people say maybe. Like Robin Schmidt. "We may be killing the goose to help the egg," he says. And Reardon. While Reardon says he's "not thrilled" with the feds telling him how to run his business, he adds that many colleges aren't doing anything at all. Without strict regulations, he fears, nothing will happen. But people at Notre Dame, says Readon, "will go to jail" before they accept the new proposals.

Some people say nothing. Like Patricia Harris, the newly-appointed HEW secretary who must do something with this mess. If Harris does have an opinion, she's not telling anyone what it is. And as far as can be determined, she believes in fairness.

While people make up their minds, Title IX remains in limbo. And nobody at HEW knows what will happen. Only one thing is for sure. The combatants, some fear, will never be happy. No regulation, as one Harvard official says, "can possibly address the idiosyncracies of every university." And I thought we knew that before last December.

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