Colleges and universities should be more sensitive to the plight of men’s sports teams in trying to comply with Title IX restrictions, said a report handed to the U.S. Secretary of Education Wednesday. The report, based on the findings of the Education Secretary Roderick Paige’s 15-member commission, listed 23 recommendations for the Office of Civil Rights.
While any implementation of the recommendations is still long off, GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz said, if instituted, they would not have an affect on the way GW runs its athletic department.
“We are committed to our athletic program the way it is. We’re not looking to make men less and women more,” he said. “The way I see it, athletes are athletes, and we are not going to change that view.”
The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, led by Stanford Athletic Director Ted Leland, met earlier this month in response to a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association that argues 355 men’s college athletic teams have been cut because of the improper interpretation of Title IX.
Paige will evaluate the report, said Rita Simon, a commissioner on the committee and a professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs and Law School. The earliest policy change would be seen in May or June, she said.
Kvancz said he doubts the recommendations will result in policy changes.
“‘If’ is a big word,” he said. “We are no closer to seeing a policy change. One, the rule is probably not broken. Two, the problems with Title IX are not going to be helped by these recommendations. (The recommendations) make sense, but I don’t think (the report) will help anything.”
The 23 recommendations stress that cutting men’s teams and male athlete roster spots is not how the law, originally aimed to ban sex discrimination in education, including athletics, was meant to be interpreted.
The commission recommended that “the Office for Civil rights should make clear that cutting teams in order to demonstrate compliance with Title IX is a disfavored practice,” and recommended that “the office should reexamine its standards governing private funding to prevent particular sports from being dropped.”
Title IX uses a three-pronged test to define 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.
Because numbers are easier to comply with than “interest” or “history,” athletic departments tend to use the first prong as a “safe harbor,” placing undue stress on the proportionality restriction.
To rectify this practice, the report urges the department to de-emphasize the first test by counting roster opportunities instead of athletes and eliminating walk-on athletes from participant total. Kvancz said he would like to see the second two prongs defined rather than the first prong de-emphasized.
“If you can define interest or history, then it would be better, but the law does not define and you have to be in trouble (with the first prong) to find if you comply with the second or third,” he said.