Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Title IX: DOES HELP FOR WOMEN COME AT THE EXPENSE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS?

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Title IX: DOES HELP FOR WOMEN COME AT THE EXPENSE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS?

Article excerpt

Title IX: DOES HELP FOR WOMEN COME AT THE EXPENSE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS?.

Gender equity has created an intriguing set of circumstances in the world of college athletics.

On the one hand, Title IX, the federal law which forbids sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds, has opened the window of opportunity for scores of female athletes.

The NCAA women's basketball tournament offers ample proof. The Women's Final Four has attracted an average of almost 50,000 fans over the past two years.

And there are other examples. Soccer has blossomed as a premier women's sport in America. Colleges and universities are a major part of the feeder system that produced players for the 1996 Olympic gold-medal winning U.S. soccer team. Women's gymnastics and swimming are also on the rise as collegiate sports which feature top-caliber competition and widespread fan support.

But there is a down side. While there are now more women sports programs on the collegiate scene, critics say that in general, women have benefitted at the expense of men's sports.

It's All About Proportionality

In order for schools to comply with Title IX, schools have to provide opportunities for female athletes that are in line with the percentage of females on that campus. Put another way, if a school's student body is 55 percent women, 55 percent of its total athletic offerings must be geared toward women. The law doesn't mandate that schools treat men's and women's sports identically, but it does say that the benefits for both should be comparable. Few schools have yet met this text, according to recent surveys [see BI the Numbers, pg. 27], but pressure to comply may increase after a landmark Title IX case against Brown University works its way through the Supreme Court.

For many schools, adhering to Title IX means cutting men's sports to provide funding for women. In many instances, schools have had to eliminate some men's spots or reduce -- sometimes dramatically -- the number of scholarships and coaches in those sports.

"If you increase opportunities for one group, I'm not so sure that you don't wind up denying another group." says Alex Wood, head football coach at James Madison University and vice-president of the Black Coaches Association. "And because there's only so much money available to operate a college sports program, somebody will inevitably get the short end of the stick."

Football has become a main target for Title IX advocates because it eats up a large chunk of the athletic budget. The sport is expensive because of the large roster sizes (80-100 players), equipment, and recruiting costs.

Title IX supporters assert that schools can reduce football scholarships and still maintain a competitive program. They point to National Football League (NFL) teams which have roster limits of forty-five players. When compared to the eighty-five scholarship limit that the major college football programs have, they ask, "If the pros prosper with forty-five, why can't the colleges?" Decreasing the number of football scholarships, Title IX proponents explain, will free up sufficient money to finance women's sports.

Race v. Gender

This is where race and gender wind up on a collision course.

"The race versus gender issue is very real," says Wood. "In football, a large number of the players are Black. So when you start cutting scholarships, you not only take away the opportunity to play, you take away the opportunity to go to school. …

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