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Unfair advantage

As Title IX turns 35, the law needs to be reevaluated

Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 12:24PM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 4:48PM
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Even as Title IX celebrates its 35th anniversary on Saturday, we still hear critics moaning that too many universities are dropping too many men's sports just to stay in compliance with the statute

Basically, Title IX says schools must offer athletic programs in proportion with their gender population. This was reasonably easy to accommodate three decades ago, when President Nixon (of all people) signed Title IX into law. At that time, you see, 55 percent of college students were male.

Today, though, about 58 percent of college students are female. Very soon, three out of five collegians will be women. Can two-thirds be far behind?

USA Today cites James Madison University in Virginia as a typical example. Already, 61 percent of its student body is what we liked to call distaff. So JMU is axing 10 sports teams, seven of them men's. Among other things, this creates the strange situation where James Madison will have a women's track team, but not a men's. This sort of thing is happening everywhere, and as the gender imbalance inexorably increases, so will the accelerated elimination of men's sports.

Moreover, because so many American boys devote themselves to sports, starting in grade school, working toward an athletic scholarship, neglecting classroom work, the problem can only increase. That is to say, because more boys concentrate on sports, more girls do better academically, so more women get into college and so there are fewer men's teams with fewer positions for the boys devoting themselves to sports. Hence, even more girls qualify for college, thus fewer men's sports and so on until eventually only a handful of Renaissance men will be populating the few remaining male sports teams.

The current situation is fair. It is not the fault of girls that boys won't work hard in the classroom. However, it is really not healthy that, soon enough, most colleges will only have men's teams in football and basketball, maybe baseball.

Most of the critics of Title IX argue that it was never the intention of the statute only to use the gender percentage of enrolled students to determine the number of slots allotted to men's and women's teams and athletes. These opponents argue that students should be polled to determine their interest in athletics, and that should determine the gender ratio. That is, if a school is 60 percent female, but only 40 percent of the women say they're interested in sports, then only 40 percent of the athletic team population should be given over to women.

I would agree, too, that far more young men are "interested" in sports than are women, but I would also suggest that that more substantial "interest" is because men and boys have a greater devotion to spectator sports -- and what's that got to do with participating in sports? To measure "interest" is just too vague a standard. It's a red herring. Everybody should have an equal chance at playing sports

There are two simple solutions. First, except in the so-called revenue sports -- football and basketball -- get rid of athletic scholarships. It never made any sense that a volleyball player should earn a scholarship, while a piano player shouldn't. End that inequity that gives special dispensation to sports over the arts. With the money saved from supporting many unqualified students, whole teams could be financed.

Or, get Congress to declare that football is legally in a different category. Realistically, it is. Take it out of the Department of Athletics and put it in the new Department of Entertainment or the Department of Amusing The Alumni. Football is twice the problem. It has no female analogue, and it is by far the costliest sport. Remove it from the Title IX equation, and once again young men could swim and run and jump and play tennis and lacrosse, just like young women.

Another solution would be to get boys to study harder when they're growing up, but I don't have the foggiest idea how to do anything about that.

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