Bush Commission’s Final Recommendations Threaten Three Decades of Progress Toward Equal Funding and Opportunity
Since June 2002, a national commission created by President Bush has been examining possibilities for overhauling the landmark gender equality legislation known as Title IX. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the limited enforcement of Title IX since its passage three decades ago, the commission chose to examine a wide range of proposals to alter or weaken the legislation, including one that could lead to a reduction in scholarships for female athletes. “This is not real reform. This commission is clearly an attempt to attack Title IX by ‘reforming’ the law and weakening its focus on the goal of equal opportunity across gender lines,” People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said.
“This commission has been stacked with representatives of large Division IA colleges whose interests are not necessarily those of the collegiate sports community at large. As a result, the commission’s recommendations, if implemented, could deal a crushing blow to millions of female future athletes who deserve and expect a level playing field in college sports,” Neas said. “Many of the commissioners represent schools whose concern for their television and advertising presence drives an unequal commitment to their men’s sports programs. They see Title IX as an obstacle, and their overwhelming presence on this commission has forced that viewpoint to the top of the agenda.”
Many of the commission’s final recommendations could prove enormously damaging to the future of equal opportunity in sports. One such recommendation allows schools to determine the level of interest in sports by using surveys of incoming students. This system could lock in inequitable distribution of athletic resources. Another recommendation would allow schools to skew enrollment numbers unfairly against women by permitting institutions to omit non-traditional students (usually defined as those who entered college later than typical high school graduates) when calculating the student body ratio. Since most non-traditional students are women, the female side of the enrollment ratio will be artificially lowered.
“These recommendations will do severe damage to the already limited opportunities female student athletes enjoy today,” said Neas. “These recommendations will have the effect of allowing schools — under the direction of the Department of Education — to skirt the spirit of Title IX and rob female student athletes of opportunities and access to recruiting and scholarship resources.”
For the past thirty years, Title IX has advanced opportunities for women and girls to participate in scholastic sports from high school to college. The legislation has had significant impact. Before Title IX, less than 30,000 women participated in college sports; today that number is higher than 150,000. These results were achieved despite the absence of Title IX enforcement actions; no school has ever been sanctioned by the Justice Department for non-compliance with Title IX. As a result, while the gender gap in scholastic sports has narrowed, equal opportunity is still lacking. While women make up 53% of college students, they represent only 41% of athletes and receive only 32% of recruiting resources.
“The Title IX legislation has survived court challenges because it relies on a three-part test to ensure that schools are complying with the law while not being forced into a quota system,” Neas said. “The very fact that men’s sports still receive more recruitment and scholarship money than women’s sports demonstrates that Title IX doesn’t create a quota system. Instead, Title IX creates opportunity, and a strong federal commitment to protecting and enforcing the law would only create more opportunity.”
Every federal appellate court that has considered the validity of Title IX’s three-part test has upheld it as constitutional and consistent with the statute. Furthermore, courts have repeatedly recognized that Title IX in no way creates quotas. Attacks on Title IX, meanwhile, have focused on the actions taken by individual schools as they move to create equal opportunities for athletes of all genders. The creation of the presidential commission came after a lawsuit was filed by wrestling coaches who allege their programs were being eliminated because of Title IX funding rules. “The decision to cut men’s sports teams lies with the institution alone and its inability to deal with current budgetary problems and past failures, not with Title IX,” Neas wrote in a letter to the commission last November.
“President Bush has a chance to stand behind the equality and fairness that make up the foundation and future of Title IX,” Neas said. “He should not allow the misguided and misinformed attempts of a few to limit the opportunities of women in this country.”