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John Underwood
February 05, 1979
So say college administrators who fear that government efforts to bring parity to women's sports might bring ruin to the men's
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February 05, 1979

An Odd Way To Even Things Up

So say college administrators who fear that government efforts to bring parity to women's sports might bring ruin to the men's

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According to the fearful administrators of intercollegiate sport, a crisis of "unprecedented magnitude" has been dumped on them by the federal government. They claim that this momentous crisis, if unrelieved, will strangle the financing of intercollegiate competition and lead to its demise.

At issue are the guidelines laid down by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for the enforcement of Title IX, the 1972 act that forbids sex discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal funds—in other words, just about every college and university in the country. HEW, as Title IX's interpreter, is required by Congress to deny funds to institutions not complying with the statute.

Title IX was not originally written with sports in mind, but in the '70s activists for women's athletics made the statute applicable to sports. Subsequent attempts to clarify what Title IX meant as far as intercollegiate sports programs are concerned were so vague that college athletic administrators were puzzled. Nevertheless, women's participation in college sports has more than doubled this decade. It has grown with such speed that, according to HEW, women now constitute 26% of the total number of college athletes, and 18% of the total collegiate budget dollar is spent on women. This is undoubtedly a result of Title IX, even though the procedures for compliance weren't spelled out.

In the six years since Title IX became law, there has been debate over exactly how a school is supposed to avoid sex discrimination in its athletic program. For example, if a school spends $100,000 on men's sports, does Title IX mean it must spend $100,000 on women's sports? If it pays its men's basketball coach $30,000 a year, must it pay its women's basketball coach the same amount? Such questions should have been answered last July, the original deadline for compliance with Title IX. They were not answered, and until the end of the year, a spirit of laissez-faire prevailed.

Then the bomb fell.

Last December, a month before the NCAA's annual convention in San Francisco, HEW Secretary Joseph Califano issued a 35-page "clarification" of the guidelines that had been proposed in 1975 and were to go into effect last July. In addition to setting a new deadline for compliance—the start of the 1979-80 school year—the document included an apparently logical policy formula requiring that "expenditures on men's and women's athletics be proportional to the number of men and women participating..." and that they be "substantially equal" on a per capita basis. As HEW Staff Attorney Jean Peelin explained it at the convention. "If a college has 200 male varsity athletes and spends $200,000 on scholarships for an average of $1,000 per scholarship per male athlete, that college must spend an average of $1,000 on athletic scholarships for women."

According to the college administrators, that formula alone would present obvious and numerous pitfalls to anyone who ever tried to balance an athletic budget. But what scared them most was that Califano's "clarification" specified that the colleges had to include football and basketball in the formula, and that the revenues of these sports could not be counted against their expenditures. Example: State College spends $250,000 on its basketball program. The basketball program brings in a profit of $100,000. The college administrators would like to subtract the profit from the expenditure. HEW says no dice, the expenditure of $250,000 must be the figure the school uses when it calculates how much it spends per male athlete in order to determine how much must be spent per female athlete. By way of alleviating this fear, HEW does say it will take into account the exceptionally high cost of certain sports, for instance, football. But the administrators weren't mollified.

In San Francisco, Peelin further said the HEW staff had been instructed by Califano to say no more about the guidelines until after Feb. 10, the deadline for the colleges to "comment" on the HEW proposals. But she said it was understood that the policy would have an open end, that whenever a women's team was added—or a woman was added to a team—the per capita formula would apply. This, she said, was in keeping with Califano's guideline synopsis, which specifies that colleges and universities "take specific active steps to provide additional athletic opportunities for women."

Although Califano stated that the interpretation "recognizes that intercollegiate football, in particular, is unique among sports," and that "reasonable provisions considering the nature of a particular sport" would have to be taken into account, by the time the college administrators hit San Francisco, they were in no mood for what one representative called "vague assurances." Most of them, in fact, were at a loss to explain what they considered HEW's continual waffling. Tom Hansen, the NCAA's assistant executive director, said, "When you start understanding them [the guidelines] is when you really get scared."

Stirred up by an impassioned keynote speech against HEW by Dr. William E. Davis, president of the University of New Mexico, the delegates forecast doom all around. They called the proposals an "illegal power grab" by HEW, and Davis said, "A crisis of unprecedented magnitude is coming." He charged the federal government with "trying to become the fifth man in the Notre Dame backfield."

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