When sports pundits ponder questions regarding Title IX, they commonly think of the impact the law has on powerful Division I programs that are home to the nation’s finest 18 to 22 year old athletes. They turn on their television every Saturday afternoon and they see that for every breathtaking catch by Miami’s wide receiver Andre Johnson, is one more passing moment that the pool that housed former Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis and the now defunct Hurricane’s swimming and diving team remains empty. While these experts search for solutions to balance out major athletic programs, they tend to forget that the problem is just as bewildering in small programs like UR’s.
Thirty years after the inception of Title IX, there are seemingly more questions now about participation in intercollegiate athletics. The law which was passed by Congress in 1972 states that “no person in the United States, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”
Today in the wake of the 30th anniversary of Title IX, it is celebrated as the law that jumpstarted women’s sports, when in actuality it was first written to ensure educational opportunities for females in law and medical schools. Notwithstanding, the effects that Title IX have had on women’s sports have been nothing short of amazing. In 1971, the year before Title IX became law, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, about one in 27. Today, the number approaches 3 million, or approximately one in 2 and a half. Furthermore, the number of women participating in intercollegiate sports in that same span has gone from about 30,000 to more than 150,000. In the last 20 years alone, the number of women’s college teams has nearly doubled.
“It is the most important thing that has happened in college athletics,” UR Athletic Director George VanderZwaag said. “Our program scope has doubled, and it is that way for many other programs as well. We did not have any women’s sports before Title IX became a law.”
No one is contending that Title IX has not had a positive effect on women’s sports. However, when one looks closely at the law they will see that many athletic programs are forced to eliminate men’s programs, without adding any women’s programs to comply with Title IX regulations.
“I think Title IX has done a phenomenal job of creating opportunities in athletics for women, but at the same time I have seen the detriment it has caused to the men,” men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach Julie Benker-O’Brien said. “I have seen a number of men’s swimming programs eliminated, because of the budget constraints caused by Title IX.”
Critics of Title IX do not disapprove of the law itself, rather the interpretation made by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office, who is responsible for handling all Title IX disputes. The Civil Rights Office instituted a three-prong test to see if a school is in compliance with Title IX. A university only needs to pass one part of the test.
The first test known as proportionality, requires a school’s enrollment to be proportional to its athletic participation. For example, if UR’s student body is composed of 55 percent females, our athletic teams should entail a similar composition. The other two tests are more objective as a program will be considered Title IX compliant if it is either able to show that it is displaying a “continuing practice of adding women’s sports,” or if it can demonstrate that “the athletic interests and abilities of women on campus are being accommodated.”
“I think the interpretation of the law is very narrow in terms of proportionality,” VanderZwaag added. “If ten extra men wanted to walk on to the track team, and ten less women wanted to be on their track team, we couldn’t accommodate such a situation because it wouldn’t be in compliance with Title IX. That part of the law is negative.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jessica Gavora, policy adviser for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and author of “Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX” who claims that Title IX causes sex discrimination, instead of ending it. “The evidence is no longer ignorable, Title IX has created a new class of victim. Some colleges bar walk-ons from men’s teams, while at the same time coaches of women’s teams sometimes struggle to fill rosters.”
UR presently has twenty varsity teams?10 men’s and 10 women’s. On the men’s side there is baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, golf, soccer, squash, swimming, tennis and track. Meanwhile, the women have teams representing basketball, cross-country, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball.
One sport that is conspicuously missing from the Men’s side is lacrosse. The varsity lacrosse team was cut from the UR athletic program in 1993 for a number of reasons when head coach Erv Chandler left the position to become the assistant football coach at Columbia. UR did not find a replacement for Chandler, and the program consequently lost its varsity status.
“We are the only team in the UCAA that does not have a lacrosse program, and one of the only Division III schools in upstate New York that is without a team,” Juniorjclub lacrosse player Jorge Villali said.””You cannot attribute it completely to Title IX, but it is definitely one of the factors.”
Proportionality seems to have played a role in the removal of the lacrosse team, as the women’s softball team was elevated from club status at the same time that men’s lacrosse was eliminated. Moreover, the fact that UR has a women’s lacrosse team, but not a men’s squad shows that proportionality was probably a main factor in cutting lacrosse. VanderZwaag, however said that there are many factors involved when a team is removed from the program, which include budget concerns and recruiting.
Junior Matt Tyrell appeared to be frustrated when asked why the school is devoid of a lacrosse squad. “We had one game at Fauver last year, and lots of fans showed up to it. I think a varsity lacrosse team would be a great addition to the campus,” he said. In terms of Title IX implications, Tyrell was equally incensed. “I’m not completely blaming the women, either, for our impasse. The major problem is the athletic budget. Football, for example, takes up so much of the men’s budget that other sports such as lacrosse need to be cut. If you take ten players off their team, the equipment costs alone can support a program like ours.”
UR’s Athletic Director also was not hesitant to admit that an athletic department faces numerous obstacles in supporting a football team. “The challenge created by football is simply numbers based,” VanderZwaag said. “Since there are so many players on a football team, it takes two, or maybe even three women’s teams to produce the same amount of athletes that play football.”
UR football coach Mark Kre ydt declined comment.
Perhaps a simple solution would be to remove football from Title IX considerations. As a sport that incurs major cost for both equipment and travel, there is no female equivalent that provides such a substantial cost in both dollars and numbers. If football is no longer considered, equality between men’s and women’s sports in terms of numbers can be achieved, and teams like men’s lacrosse will remain in the athletic program.
When posed this question in June during the 30th anniversary of Title IX, former Women’s Sports Foundation President and Title IX expert Nancy Hogshead responded by saying, ” Football is another sports experience and all sports are educational experiences,” she said. “There are not three genders?men, women, and football. Particularly given how many football programs run enormous deficits, there’s no reason to exclude football from the equation.”
VanderZwaag agreed. “If athletics and Title IX in particular are supposed to foster educational opportunities, I don’t see how football
can not be applied to the law.”
So what then is the answer to this difficult conundrum? Gavora thinks she has the resolution. “Title IX should be reformed so that it once again reflects the interests in athletics of both men and women ? no matter what they are. Today the law ignores the interest of the separate sexes and imposes a mathematical formula instead. Title IX should accommodate more women then men if more women than men are interested in sports and it should accommodate more men than women if more men are interested in sports.”
Simply put, but difficult to implement. Although college sports?women’s in particular has made boundless strides in the past 30 years, it could be 30 more years before a perfect system is put in place. This process is so complex that it makes determining a national champion in college football look like a walk in the park.