This is the seventh in a series entitled “Women’s Sports Without Illusions” that critically examines the nearly four decades of the women’s sports movement, including Title IX, cultural and social developments, the growth of professional and international women’s sports and current challenges and issues.
All posts in this series can be found here.
Yesterday I mapped out a few ideas on how Title IX compliance might be changed to reflect the progress of women’s college athletics today, mindful that none of these will probably go anywhere. Instead of boosting participation numbers to match proportionality, I argue that issues over funding, facilities and related matters be made the focal point of new sports regulations.
Today I’ll explain why what we have now is what we’re stuck with, probably for at least another 30 years.
Has this all been a waste of time, then? I don’t think so. The public’s view of what Title IX is has been defined by just one narrow band of interest groups that nonetheless dominates, in large part because there’s not much in the way of any alternative being presented.
Why the 3-part test won’t go
It’s politics. The Women’s Sports Foundation and National Women’s Law Center have made Title IX their highest priority, and it shows. Ever since the mid-1990s, with the Cohen vs. Brown decision and a policy clarification that made proportionality the de facto standard for sports compliance, the Title IX establishment has scored victory after victory, in courts of law and public opinion.
Rather uncritical mainstream media coverage hasn’t hurt with the latter, even though some reporters do a good job explaining the concerns of those advocating on behalf of displaced male athletes. But critics like the College Sports Council have struggled to get any kind of sustained traction for their views, outside of “he said, she said” stories purporting to demonstrate “balance” on a hot topic. And they simply don’t have the law on their side, as it is being interpreted by the federal courts. At times, the CSC can sound as shrill as the women’s groups it opposes, and that’s saying something. We have two entrenched positions that are ironclad. This will not spur meaningful change.
There’s also no willpower in Washington to change any of this. Title IX has become something of a third-rail issue, and frankly, it wasn’t a terribly high priority in Congress even before the current economic crisis. Bush’s education secretary didn’t act on his own Title IX commission’s recommendations, some of which tried to stake out at least a few new ideas worth pondering. They’ve been shelved, probably permanently.
It’s legal. There’s quite a bit of case law and legal precedent for maintaining the status quo. A new set of regulations would take years to craft into a workable set of options for colleges to follow, as guided by the courts. The Supreme Court declined to take up Cohen v. Brown in 1997 because there had been no disagreement at two lower court levels. There has been little since about anything significant regarding the 3-part test.
Football and proportionality
Because the 3-part test is here to stay, here’s another vexing issue that has been around for years: Should football be counted in the proportionality equation?
I’ve long said no — and so have others — because football is a different animal, both in having no female equivalent and with the specialized nature of the sport prompting large rosters. I say this realizing that this suggestion now is basically a non-starter.
Here’s a little history lesson: Two years after Title IX was passed, there was an effort in Congress to exempt revenue-producing sports. However, the Tower Amendment failed, leading to legislation that created the sports regulations we have now, including the 3-part test. I don’t see how any renewed effort to take football out of Title IX compliance will fly.
And given the current problems in college football, it’s implausible that any position to keep that sport away from the gender equity fray can be taken seriously. Even if it makes sense. If you make it a men vs. women thing, which the women’s advocates will do, it will be very easy to pinpoint where the more troubling issues lie.
Currently the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) scholarship limit is 85; it used to be 120 before Title IX compliance began in earnest. I’ve thought for a while about cutting the number, perhaps to 70, and then taking football out of the picture.
But I hate the idea of more men being turned away. Even if you agree that football is bloated, there are real human beings who did nothing to hold back women athletes but who are paying the price for what happened before they were born.
I also loathe roster management, although keeping down costs is a persistent issue in football. Here’s another doozy from Ball State, which spent $88,000 to lodge football players before home games. The NCAA could put some teeth in curtailing this, but it hasn’t for years. Serious college football reform efforts would need to include much more than any impact on women’s sports, but those are about as likely to take place as scotching the 3-part test.
Title IX advocates insist there’s still a lot of fat remaining that needs to be cut. Especially below the BCS level schools do lose money on football, sometimes a lot of money.
The political reality is the women’s advocates won’t budge in having football tied to proportionality, and they’d raise holy hell if anybody tried to cut it out. Without football in the mix, most schools would comply with Title IX, and men’s and women’s non-revenue teams might get more proper attention.
These changes alone still won’t yield the money that would conceivably be redistributed to the women’s side. And scaling back football, even to a modest degree, has never encouraged a young woman to try out for a team.
Some other suggestions for reform
Sportswriter Beau Dure doesn’t think that football “should be given a pass.” But he suggests adding a fourth prong of compliance for schools that already provide a healthy roster of sports for women:
Little room for optimism
However, the last thing the powerful women’s interests groups want is for colleges to actually reach compliance; it would endanger their advocacy. Besides, there’s fertile new ground for litigation at the scholastic level, and the National Women’s Law Center’s most recent publicity stunt is a declaration of these intentions. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of high school districts across the country face lawsuits and some very painful prospects at a time when many of them are laying off teachers, gutting academic programs and closing schoools.
More disturbingly, so-called Title IX legal experts are getting all dreamy about the future of the law, interpreting the current status as only just the beginning of where they want to go next. Says former NWLC attorney Deborah Brake in her recent book on Title IX:
“Degendering sports is an important part of securing sex equality in sports.”
Protect your privates, fellas. Here we go again. More on that later in the week.
Coming Wednesday: Do girls and women really need sports? Yes, this is another heretical question I’m asking here. But you may not be aware of the soul-crushing reasons women’s advocates have cited to virtually beg females to get in the game.
Women’s Sports Without Illusions: The Series.