JMU athletes protest changes to Title IX

Student athletes and Title IX advocates across the country are in an uproar regarding James Madison University’s elimination of ten varsity sports.

According to university officials, the cuts are the school’s only option for complying with Title IX, a law designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex.

The two issues under question by protestors are the improper reinforcement of Title IX and the resentment of Title IX which may result from its improper reinforcement.

The university’s cuts fell under the proportionality method of Title IX compliance. Currently, 51% of student athletes are female and 49% are males. The proportionality prong requires the school’s athletic participation to reflect the overall gender ratio of students: 61% female and 39% male.

JMU officials insist that the cuts were necessary, because they could not afford to add new women’s sports or convert two women’s club sports to varsity sports to follow Title IX.

Jeff Bourne, JMU athletics director, believes that the proportionality prong is the school’s “most viable alternative for reaching compliance with Title IX.”

However, students and activist groups which champion Title IX and women’s rights accuse James Madison University of hiding behind misconstrued Title IX provisions in order to save money and avoid making budget cuts from their most coveted programs: men’s football and men’s basketball.

James Madison University followed the national trend of cutting Olympic sports such as swimming and gymnastics because these sports draw less attendance than the more publicized basketball and football programs. However, elimination of Olympic sports is not only a blow to the sports’ individual participants; it could also ultimately yield a grim outlook for the future of the U.S. Olympic team.

The National Woman’s Law Center and Women’s Sports Foundation held a press conference on Nov. 2 speaking out against program cuts. Donna Lopiano, the chief executive of the Women’s Sports Foundation, noted what she considers unnecessary and inappropriate spending by JMU.

“They raised money for a new $10 million athletic performance center in 2005.[and] chose to spend almost $300,000 to replace and refinish the basketball floor and to tile the area’s entrance and now have made program cuts that will result in football and basketball accounting for 60% of all participation opportunities,” Lopiano said.

Allison Kasic, a representative from the Independent Women’s Forum, which sponsored student protests of the cuts, maintains that Title IX never mentions program cuts.

“Title IX has been twisted as a quasi form of affirmative action. It is not supposed to take opportunities away from one group to make up for the discrimination of another group. It was established to prevent discrimination and to make sure people are judged by the basis of merit, not gender,” Kasic said.

Kasic believes the enforcement of Title IX has gotten “out of control” and both men and women athletes will suffer. She states students are unhappy with James Madison University’s disregard for their athletic preferences.

“Schools should get an idea of what sports people want to play most,” Kasic says. “Then, schools can make the best decision on how to comply with Title IX.”

The reactions to JMU’s cuts are sure to have an impact on other schools who are considering eliminations of similar programs to satisfy Title IX.

“We now know that the improper enforcement of Title IX is a national problem,” said Kasic. “JMU students are pioneers since their protests have been so publicized. They are fighting for sports all across the country.”

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