A national commission recommended the government make Title IX legislation less rigid last week, an act that could loosen restrictions on some GW men’s sports teams. The restrictions are currently in place in compliance with the 30-year-old law’s aim to ban sex discrimination in education programs, including athletics.
The 15-member committee, formed by Education Secretary Rod Paige and co-chaired by former WNBA star Cynthia Cooper and Stanford Athletic Director Ted Leland, met last Wednesday and Thursday to consider changes to the law. Paige will receive the committee’s report by the end of the month and decide whether the landmark law should be changed.
The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, which has been taking recommendations from around the country for the past six months, comes in the wake of a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. The suit filed against Title IX argues 355 men’s college athletic teams have been cut because of the legislation.
GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz said he would be shocked if Paige took any of the recommendations.
“It’s a tough issue and no one can say in six months what we should do,” he said. “I don’t see the recommendations changing the problems. They need to be discussed over and over.”
Title IX uses a three-pronged approach in defining equality in athletics. First, the ratio of athletes at an institution must be “substantially proportionate” to a school’s enrollment. Secondly, the institution must show a history and continuing practice of expanding women’s programs. Lastly, the institution must prove the interest and abilities of women are accommodated.
Most colleges and universities strive to match the quotas set by the first requirement because two other requirements are considered to be in a gray area – a situation, critics suggest, that harms men’s sports like football, baseball and wrestling.
Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who declined to comment for this story, was a main proponent of the committee’s primary proposal, a recommendation to allow schools to allocate as little as 43 percent of slots on varsity teams for women. If a change occurred, a school could still fall within the guidelines of the law, even though women make up 55 percent of college enrollments.
GW’s ratio of male to female athletes is roughly 42 to 58, Kvancz said, and more scholarships are awarded to women.
The commission ultimately deadlocked 7-7 on that issue but did recommend several other proposals. They suggested schools use surveys to ascertain the level of interest in varsity athletics, determine the number of roster spots on each team that would count toward compliance with the law and recommended that “non-traditional” students, who do not participate in sports, not be counted in calculations.
Yow, who is leading the charge to change the law, argued that it has forced schools to cut men’s sports, particularly “high profile” programs like football and basketball.
Recently, St. Johns University in Jamaica, N.Y., dropped its football program to comply with Title IX, Providence College in Rhode Island dropped its baseball team and Marquette University dropped its football team. But Kvancz said GW is not likely to make any cuts.
Assistant Athletic Director Mary Jo Warner pointed out that the University has added women’s sports instead of cutting men’s in recent years to account for a growing number of women. Kvancz elaborated on the issue.
“Fortunately we’ve been in a situation where, because of Mount Vernon, we’ve added women’s lacrosse, softball and squash, so we’re in petty good shape in terms of Title IX and participation,” Kvancz said. “You have to get (a proportional number of men and women). People have found you can subtract to get there. Fortunately we can get there by adding.”
GW head baseball coach Tom Walter said though the law limits his roster to 29 players, he does not believe Title IX has adversely effected the team.
“When I got here (seven years ago), there was no set limit and you could keep whoever you want on the team,” he said, noting the law limits the opportunity for walk-ons.
Those in favor of keeping the law, like GW head women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown, say any change in the legislation would hurt the progress of women’s athletics.
“You’d hate to see scholarships taken away, sports being cut, opportunities for women being stifled because of political situations,” McKeown said. “That’s what would happen with these recommendations. Women have made tremendous strides, but colleges don’t market it.”
Before Title IX, fewer than 30,000 women participated in NCAA intercollegiate sports programs, but by 2001 nearly 151,000 females were NCAA athletes. In that same time, the percentage of athletic department budgets allocated for women jumped from two to 42 percent.
Warner was also leery of the ramifications of the recommendations, saying, “I’m concerned about some of the changes that are being recommended by the commission, so I hope Paige is thorough in his decisions.”