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When the anti-discriminatory Title IX statute first appeared in 1972, universities across the country viewed it as just another bureaucratic nightmare--a hazy set of restrictions that were all bark and no bite.
Few envisioned it as capable of eliminating the gender gap that pervaded collegiate athletics. But last week, the Education Department put stronger fangs into Title IX by publishing rules requiring universities to report how much money they spend for men's and women's intercollegiate athletics.
These guidelines will make it easier to prove discrimination charges under Title IX, a law which requires equal opportunity for male and female athletes and was first tried in court by the Brown women's volleyball team in 1990.
"If expenditures show drastically better treatment for men than women, then that can make a huge difference under the law," Arthur Bryant of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice said in the New York Times.
Under the new provisions, schools will be required to publicly disclose participation rates and financial support every year starting on October 1, 1996.
Although it is too early to tell, these new rules will probably have a negligible impact on Harvard's programs. The Department reports that it has never been under a Title IX investigation nor has it ever received a complaint of Title IX discrimination. A major investment in the fall of 1993 helped keep Harvard's record clean, when the University gave $200,000 to five different women's teams.
Radcliffe crew coach Liz O'Leary agreed with Bryant's statement and lauded Harvard for its commitment to gender equal athletics.
"I am confident that we [Harvard] are in compliance with Title IX and do not expect to see any glaring discrepancies between the programs [men's and women's]," O'Leary said.
Though coaches agree on Harvard's compliance, they are split on whether these regulations will really benefit Title IX. Women's basketball coach Kathy Delaney Smith views this as an opportunity to make administrators nationwide more aware of the presence of discrimination in collegiate athletics.
"Women's programs need more money so that they can attract the marketing and support staff necessary to be competitive," Delaney Smith said.
Other coaches, such as women's soccer coach Tim Wheaton, view financial support as an inadequate measure of university backing for their programs.
They argue that some sports (lacrosse, hockey, etc.) require different equipment for men's and women's teams which would be reflected in monetary allocation differences for the two programs. Also, travel schedules vary widely for teams depending on where tough competition is located.
"There are so many other variables at work that it is impossible to equate money with commitment," Wheaton said.
A final school of coaches finds the provisions a benefit for the cause of gender equality in athletics, but do not see it as relevant to their sport.
Although Title IX may not directly affect Harvard athletics, many coaches see a long-term impact in terms of increased competition in women's athletics.
"These new rules will have a huge impact at other schools," Delaney Smith said.
The level of impact will depend on the type of sport. In recruitment-based sports, such as basketball, the effects will be felt primarily in its ability to attract top athletes. With more money in their programs, other schools will have more leverage to draw sponsors and offer lucrative packages to athletes.
Other sports, such as crew, will not have that problem due to their limited recruiting efforts. These sports, which can usually be picked up in college with little prior experience, succeed more through on-campus recruiting efforts than from going outside Harvard for athletes.
"We will just have to be stronger and faster, which has nothing to do with money," O'Leary said.
For most programs, the increase in the number of teams since the Title IX passage is even more important than the money issue.
"We have already seen an incredible growth in the number of soccer programs as a result of Title IX," Wheaton said.
The increased number of teams has brought a greater interest among women in sports that they would not have previously considered. Consequently, the level of competition has grown.
No matter what the final impact of Title IX is for Harvard, nearly all coaches agree that it is a step in the right direction for intercollegiate athletics.
"After coaching for 30 years, most of it in discriminatory settings, I am thrilled to see these moves toward gender equality," Delaney Smith said.
By putting teeth into Title IX, these provisions have gone for the jugular of athletic discrimination and may well have sealed its demise.
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