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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Fix the flaws, but don't gut Title IX

Thankfully, a federal commission looking into fixing complaints about the athletic portion of the federal law known as Title IX hasn't recommended any sweeping changes.

The 1972 gender equity law, now renamed in honor of one of its prime sponsors, the late Hawai'i Congresswoman Patsy Mink, has done so much to level the playing field for women on so many fronts.

That's not to say that we don't sympathize with the frustrations of coaches of less popular men's sports, such as wrestling and swimming, whose programs have been cut to make room for women's sports in the name of equity.

But they may well be barking up the wrong tree. It's not women athletes they should be afraid of as much as football and, in some cases, basketball programs, which operate on multimillion-dollar budgets under the premise that they're money-makers.

As one commentator points out, "Without (Title IX), college sports would be all business."

Sure, critics bristle at the law's "proportionality" requirement that if 55 percent of a student body is female, then 55 percent of the athletic spots should go to women. But even though that's the principle, it's unclear whether it's ever been strictly enforced.

One study cited by consumer advocate Ralph Nader finds that while 55 percent of college populations are female, female athletes receive only 42 percent of all college athletic participation opportunities, 36 percent of sports operating expenditures, 32 percent of athlete recruitment spending and 42 percent of athletic scholarship money.

Presumably in light of that and other issues, the commission has upheld the proportionality requirement, although some fear it will eventually be dismantled. The commission did suggest that schools be given more flexibility in meeting the standard.

One way of achieving this would be to allow non-scholarship walk-on male athletes to be taken out of the proportionality equation. That would allow men's teams to add athletes to their rosters without needing to add female athletes to balance the scales.

That seems like a fair compromise. But we strongly advise against any more tinkering with Title IX. We have marched too far down the road toward gender equity in academia to turn back now.