TITLE IX, HAVE YOU HEARD

by

Tom Fakehany

Have you heard about the great program linked with less teen-age pregnancy, higher high school graduation rates, the avoidance of abusive relationships and success later in life? In a recent article the Denver Post says, it's women's volleyball -- in fact The Poughkeepsie Journal (New York) said research states it's women's sports in general.

Americans have long locked at organized sports as a good thing for boys and young men. Should you or I be surprised that they're good for girls and young women? That's why the battle over Title IX, requiring parity between men's and women's athletics at educational institutions, is important.

Reproach of Title IX don't just come from sexists. When Brown University was sued by members of the school's women's volleyball and gymnastic teams for eliminating support for their sports, Brown won the backing of other universities worried about the economic pressures Title IX can create. Lower courts ruled in favor of the women and the Supreme Court has declined to hear Brown's appeal, leaving a strict interpretation of Title IX in effect.

Title IX is a rare case where the government did what it set out to do. Before Title IX passed, an estimated 290,000 high school girls participated in competitive sports. Now it's estimated, there are more than 1.9 million and counting. There is performance, too, whether in women's volleyball, gymnastics or in the overall record of American women at the Olympic games in Atlanta. Finally, there is fairness: Title IX lets women compete for athletic scholarships once open only to young men.

If I understand the argument right, critics of Title IX attack the law as affirmative action gone wild. They say the law requires schools to spend more time and money on women's athletic programs even if the demand is low. In fact, the way I read it, the law states "no person in the USA shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid." The way I understand the law, if you don't want to follow the guidelines of Title IX -- don't take the money.

If the law required UCLA to create a women's football team to match its men's football team, you would call it goofy. Title IX doesn't do that. To comply, a school must meet one of three tests. It can have the same percentage of female athletes as it has undergraduates. That is a quota. No school has to meet that standard (and few, if any, do). A school can also meet the terms of the law either by showing a "continuing history" of expanding athletic openings for women or by demonstrating that it fully accommodates the athletic "interests and abilities" of its students. We, the people, aren't saying give us 50 percent, 51 percent or 55 percent, we are saying, come on folks, take some steps.

Title IX, enacted in 1972, represents a large change in attitudes toward women and their aspirations. Since sports affect boys and girls as they grow up, the way we treat women's sports may prove as important to changing social attitudes as anything else we do. If girls are socialized the way boys are in taking part in sports, and if boys and girls grow up with the idea that girls are strong and capable, it will change the way girls and women are viewed by themselves and by civilization. Parents see no reason why their daughters should be denied the fun and discipline that organized athletics offers their sons.

I believe high school programs are important because girls often give up sports when they reach adolescence. That's a shame, because studies, including one by the NCAA (published in 1992) find that women student athletes have higher graduation rates.

No champion of Title IX should pretend compliance will be painless. The big fight will involve football. It's the most expensive men's sport, requiring so many players (for offense, defense and special teams) and so much scholarship money. Because college and high school football is seen as so important to alumni fund raising, less "TV-genic" men's sports have borne the brunt of cutbacks. It's obviously easier to cut teams for men than to add them for women.

Football, whether it makes money for a school or not, is used to getting the biggest chunk of the pie, and football supporters want other men's sports and women to divide up the rest.

Instead of whining about quotas, we should face up to this collision of interests. College and high school football, as a game may take a blow (though the professional football leagues which use colleges and high schools as preparation grounds might help by assisting in paying for this training).

The difficulties of Title IX can be overcome. The Washington Post pointed out recently, universities such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Stanford have complied "without any noticeable diminution of programs for men." An NCAA spokesman pointed out in a fairly recent T.V. interview that only 20 percent of Division One schools are in compliance with Title IX. Therefore, much will be changing within the college sports programs over the next several years and today's high school girls and tomorrow's college women will be the beneficiary.

By refusing to take up Brown's challenge, the Supreme Court sent a message - not for "sports quotas," but for a rather old idea that organized athletics are good for young people. That includes girls and women as well as boys and men.