Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, one of the most important and successful civil rights laws in U.S. history, may soon be undermined by the Bush Administration's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics.
Title IX bars sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, including athletics. The law gave women access to classes, facilities and opportunities that had historically been male-only.
While not at risk of being repealed, it is widely believed that the Bush Administration established the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics as a vehicle to push a pre-determined agenda to weaken Title IX. The commission is to submit a written report to the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Page by February 28, 2003.
Prior to Title IX, if a woman wanted to pursue a professional degree in college, she could be passed over for a law school or medical school program simply because she was a woman. Since then, the 30-year-old law has proven itself integral to women's rights. From the class rooms and playing fields to the executive suites, Title IX has been a vital tool in advancing equal opportunities for women and girls.
It is the college playing field where Title IX is now being threatened. Some athletic directors and commentators mistakenly blame the law for the elimination of some minor men's sports. To give women the same athletic opportunities as men, say Title IX critics, schools are forced to remove men's opportunities because of a lack of money to support added teams. They claim that Title IX's equality standard (commonly referred to as "proportionality"), which requires colleges to demonstrate roughly the sameratio for male and female athletes as for students enrolled at the school, results in discrimination against male athletes.
Contrary to the rationale of those who would like to weaken Title IX's equality standard, men's sports participation and funding have continued to grow.
The real expenses starving minor men's sports of funding are the disproportionate share of university athletic dollars spent on one or two teams - football and men's basketball - and not spent to add new teams for women or to support other men's sports. Title IX should not be the scapegoat for irresponsible, nonprofit institutions of higher education that operate their football and men's basketball programs like professional franchises.
Attention should turn to college presidents and athletic directors who fuel the growing arms races in football and men's basketball with million dollar coaches and excessive expenditures. The fact that these sports may bring in revenue (though some actually lose money) does not justify their bloated budgets, which take funds away from other men's sports as well as women's sports. Rather than sharing a little of what the football and men's basketball programs spend, the remaining men's and women's sports are forced to fight for the scraps, pitting the deprived against the deprived.
Despite the gains women have made under Title IX, resources for women's sports have never caught up to resources for men's sports at most colleges and universities. Women's athletic programs continue to lag behind men's programs by every measurable criterion, including participation opportunities, athletic scholarships, operating budgets and recruiting expenditures.
While 55 percent of our college populations are female, female athletes still receive only 42 percent of all college athletic participation opportunities,36 percent of sports operating expenditures, 32 percent of athlete recruitment spending, and 42 percent of athletic scholarship money amounting to $133 million less than male athletes receive in scholarships each year.
Why are women still second-class citizens in athletics despite a law guaranteeing that we treat our daughters as well as our sons? Because Title IX has never been adequately enforced. In fact, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the law, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has never initiated a single proceeding to remove federal funds at any school or college that fails to comply. Instead, OCR has served as a negotiator of settlements that are usually less than what Title IX requires.
In order to obtain the legal rights for gender equity in athletics guaranteed them under Title IX, women across the country have successfully filed civil rights complaints and lawsuits against institutions. But until women have the same opportunities as men to enjoy the psychological, physiological and sociological benefits that sports participation can provide, we must all insist on the preservation and strengthened enforcement of Title IX.
If you'd like to help, visit the League of Fans website at www.leagueoffans.org, where you will find contact information for the key government offices and public officials involved in the Title IX fight as well as the citizen organizations dedicated to the law's protection and enforcement.
Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)