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A LAW THAT NEEDS NEW MUSCLE
Last summer, as Cheryl Miller was preparing to lead the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team to the gold medal in Los Angeles, she said, "Without Title IX I wouldn't be here." The reference was to the 1972 federal law that spurred the growth of women's sports by prohibiting sex discrimination in colleges and school systems receiving federal aid. But even as Miller, a star at Southern Cal when not playing for America, was heading for Olympic glory, the law that helped develop her athletic skills lay dormant. It had been effectively scuttled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on Feb. 28, 1984 that Title IX should be applied more narrowly than it had been. This week promoters of women's athletics will mark the first anniversary of the court's decision with a rally in Washington in support of legislation that would put the muscle back into Title IX.
Nobody disputes Title IX's importance in the startling growth of American women's sports in recent years. There were 32,000 females participating in college athletics in 1972, the year the law was enacted; by '83 the total had increased to 150,000. In '72 only 7% of high school athletes were girls; last year that figure was 35%. From 1974 to 1981 the number of colleges granting athletic scholarships to women increased from 60 to 500, while expenditures on women's programs by NCAA schools soared from $4 million to $116 million. This greater commitment to women's athletics resulted in vastly improved performances by females not just in basketball, but also in track and field, swimming and most other sports.
The Supreme Court decision could change all that. The case involved Grove City College, a private, coeducational school in Pennsylvania that as a matter of principle refused to sign a federal form promising compliance with Title IX. The Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Grove City's position that Title IX should be regarded as "program specific"—i.e., it banned sex discrimination in a particular program receiving federal funds but not in the institution as a whole. Thus, if Old Siwash was unfair to women in athletics but afforded them equal opportunity in academic programs, federal funds could be withheld only for athletics. Because little federal funding goes directly to sports programs, schools with discriminatory athletic departments were no longer threatened with loss of aid.
The immediate effect of the Court's ruling was the shelving of 40-odd cases in which the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was investigating alleged Title IX violations. At Penn State, which has had a men's varsity soccer team for 74 years, a complaint about the school's refusal to confer varsity status on the women's soccer club died without a whimper. It's worrisome enough that progress has already stopped in such cases. Worse still is the possibility of gains in women's programs being reversed. Having been forced to beef up those programs by Title IX, most schools now claim to be morally committed to parity for women's athletics. But without a strong Title IX to prod them, even the best-intentioned athletic directors may be tempted to deal with future budget crunches by cutting back on women's programs.
One reason cutbacks haven't occurred already is the political uncertainty surrounding Title IX. The Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations all applied Title IX broadly, but the Reagan Administration, while claiming to be a proponent of women's sports, backed Grove City's bid for a narrower interpretation—albeit over the private objections of then Education Secretary T.H. Bell. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court's majority ruling, there's considerable evidence that Congress meant for Title IX to be broadly applied when it passed the law in 1972, and strong bipartisan support now exists in both houses for the proposed Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985, which would clearly reassert that intention. The legislation's importance is underscored by Bell, who has left Reagan's cabinet to become a professor at the University of Utah and says he's now "free to talk out" on Title IX. Lamenting the stagnation in women's athletics caused by the weakening of that law, Bell says. "You don't go through school again. It's an opportunity lost forever."
QUADRUPLE RING CEREMONY
TRIVIALISTS AT THE BAT
Sports buffs in the Upper Midwest are gearing up for this year's Minnesota Sports Trivia Bowl, the finals of which will be broadcast live this month on radio station WCCO in Minneapolis. In the first such competition, a year ago, more than 200 four-person teams went through 764 questions. A publicist for the event passes along one of them, noting that it stumped the two teams that made the 1984 finals: "According to the poem Casey at the Bat, what was the attendance in Mudville when Casey struck out?"
The answer, our correspondent assures us, is 5,000. As evidence he cites the couplet: "Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt/Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt...."