Is Title IX Law Doing Harm to Men's Sports? Proportional Treatment for Women Has an Unintended Effect, Critics Charge

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Byline: Naomi Dillon and Sara Burnett Daily Herald Staff Writer

Few will argue with its intent.

Enacted at a time when girls made up less than 8 percent of all high school athletes, the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX was supposed to ensure girls had the same opportunities as boys.

It was supposed to right the wrongs.

But 30 years later, critics say Title IX has mostly gotten it wrong.

In the last decade, 350 intercollegiate men's programs have been cut, according to Brad Hahn, a spokesman for U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach.

The reason given for the cuts in many instances: pressure to comply with Title IX.

" (Hastert) very much supports Title IX," Hahn said. "But because of the way it's been enforced, there have been unintended consequences."

At the heart of the debate is the proportionality standard, one of three ways schools can show they are abiding by Title IX.

To establish proportionality, schools must show the ratio of girls to boys participating in sports is similar to the ratio enrolled in the school.

Critics like Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, say that's virtually impossible - and takes the law too far.

For colleges to reach proportionality, Moyer said, they have had to eliminate men's programs like wrestling, swimming and track.

"And there's no reason to believe this hasn't crept into the high school community," he said.

A Daily Herald analysis of sports in 41 suburban high schools concludes that most suburban schools fail the Title IX proportionality test.

While critics of the law say those numbers are proof proportionality is unattainable, supporters say it is evidence school athletic programs still have a ways to go before reaching equality.

Those same proponents say the reason for men's sports being cut isn't Title IX but the budget decisions of individual schools. And they oppose any change in the law - though the voices calling for it are getting louder and louder.

Some call it a quota

Last year, the chairman of the federal Department of Education, at the prompting of President Bush, appointed a task force to re- evaluate Title IX. The group scheduled hearings across the nation, including one in Chicago in September.

Task force members heard from people on all sides of the debate - female athletes, men who lost scholarships because their sports were cut, parents and coaches.

The youngest speaker was 15-year-old Brandon Boschien of Huntley, who was joined at the microphone by his 11-year-old brother, Brett.

A wrestler with aspirations of competing at the college level, Brandon told the commission he worries his college choices will be limited because schools across the country are cutting wrestling programs. He has the same fear for his younger brother, a middle school swimmer.

"You see, proportionality is causing all the wrong things to happen," said Brandon, whose father is a middle school coach. "My brother and I do not want to be one of those casualties."

The National Wrestling Coaches Association doesn't want them to be, either.

In January, the organization filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Department of Education of gender bias against men in college sports.

The lawsuit is designed to "restore the law to its original intent" of providing equal opportunity based on interest, Moyer said.

"Not what it has become, which is equal participation based on enrollment," he said.

That has resulted in what critics call a quota system.

The U.S. Track Coaches Association, the U.S. Swimming Coaches Association and the U.S. Gymnastics Coaches Association all have joined the wrestlers in their lawsuit.

But this isn't a battle cut clearly along gender lines. …