Panel Tempers Title IX Support; Changes Sought for College Sports

Article excerpt

Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Bush administration panel considering changes in Title IX federal mandates that require cuts in men's collegiate athletics moved yesterday to temper these requirements, and strongly endorsed strengthening support for women's athletics.

A major target of the majority on the panel is the Office for Civil Rights' strict enforcement of "proportionality," adopted in 1999, which decrees that support for male and female athletics be proportional to the percentages of men and women enrolled in the schools. The civil rights enforcement allows a variance of 1 percent to 3 percent.

Critics of the proportionality rule say it has required elimination of numerous men's programs to accommodate financing of programs for women. "There are many men's wrestling, gymnastics, swimming teams that have gone away," Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the University of Iowa's athletics director for 12 seasons, said yesterday. "No one anywhere is adding men's teams."

The panel said with emphasis, however, that it was not retreating from supporting women's athletic programs. "We have stated in the most unequivocal terms our support for Title IX," said Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier, one of the 15 members of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. The panel approved three recommendations in quick succession for the U.S. Department of Education to "reaffirm its strong commitment to equal opportunity for girls and boys, women and men."

Mr. Spanier and 11 other commission members stayed together on several key votes.

Voting against them were three female members, led by Julie Foudy, president of the Women's Sports Foundation and captain of the U.S. national women's soccer team, who sought to put the panel on record in favor of Clinton administration parity policies that are opposed by the big-time football schools and a consortium of coaches' associations.

Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972, intended to protect from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities funded with federal money. The law is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Miss Foudy could not win approval for a recommendation that the Office for Civil Rights "should not, directly or indirectly, change current policies in ways that would undermine the spirit and purpose of existing interpretations."

Miss Foudy and the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education dismissed Mr. Bowlsby's assertions, saying that the real financial problem is caused by schools giving high-profile sports such as football and men's basketball a disproportionate share of available funding.

The panel today will consider a recommendation that federally funded colleges and universities covered by Title IX would be expected to allocate 50 percent of their sports "participation opportunities" for men and 50 percent for women. But under the recommendation, the Office for Civil Rights would allow a 5 percent to 7 percent variance in compliance with the standard. This would permit schools to have 43 percent to 45 percent of sports positions filled by women, even if their numbers in the school population are higher.

"The commission's proposals tell schools they can comply with Title IX while falling far short of equal opportunity for women and girls," Leslie Annexstein, vice chairman of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, said. "It is not only outrageous but insulting to women and girls, and their fathers and brothers, across this country. …