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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Title IX: Stop whining and start sharing

BY EILEEN FOLEY

I come from a culture that forbids whining. So to hear male jocks carry on about being shortchanged by Title IX - it's all the rage among them these days - is like the screech of chalk on slate.

It's not that men aren't entitled to disappointment because they can't play the games they choose in college. One can sympathize with that.

Rather it's the whining of entitlement deflected, and the failure to absorb a basic lesson of kindergarten: sharing.

It's also because in 1971, the year before Title IX, about 300,000 girls played high school sports in America (see the April 18, 1997, issue of the Congressional Quarterly Researcher). And 24 years after Title IX - which mandates equal opportunity in education - there were 2.4 million.

I have zero recollection of hearing one male whine about those injustices. So huge a disparity reduces their woes to pettiness.

In 1972 I do recall a dad exultant at the prospect that with Title IX, though it would not take effect until 1975, his then or-soon-to-be high-school daughters would have the same opportunities boys do. I'm not sure they ever got them. In 1975 the compliance deadline for equal athletic opportunities was extended by three more years.

Still no outcry from the fair-minded male jocks that women were getting short-shrift.

There's no gainsaying women's athletic grit, however.

In the 1996 Olympics they won 19 of the 44 gold medals this nation captured. In the Paris Olympics of 1900, they competed only in golf and lawn tennis. Blame Title IX for the difference and for the women's World Cup soccer championship of 1990. To lose Title IX would sacrifice that.

And because the law opened doors long shut - many professional schools did not admit or limited the admission of women or barred them if they were pregnant - women's college enrollment is up. They are going to graduate schools, and joining the professions in huge numbers. Two whose careers blossomed since Title IX are U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The sports rules fleshing out Title IX don't create the dastardly quotas that critics now suggest. They say only that to be in compliance sports programs be “substantially proportional” to enrollment, or show an ongoing expansion of programs for the under-represented gender, or an accommodation of their interest and abilities. Not so much after 31 years of promises and centuries of put-downs.

It's about money, and more. A conservative hum about women's place recurs periodically. But in school sports it's also a deficit of will, and shabby sportsmanship.

Pretend there's a pot of $100,000 and 75 percent of it goes to men's sports and 25 percent goes to women's. Pretend, too, that enrollment is 50-50 between the genders.

Pretend fairness is a must.

There are two approaches. One can cut 25 percent of the money from boys' sports and fork it over to the girls' or one can spend more overall on sports, and raise investment in girls to the investment in boys. Either way the result is the desired 50-50, or thereabouts.

Balancing that equation is called sharing. It goes on all the time in families, why not in college athletics?

But athletic directors were slow to reallocate resources. They dragged on implementing Title IX and so did the then mostly male university presidents and board members.

As a result, a decade or more ago, some two decades after Title IX was enacted, schools were still out of compliance. Because they'd not expanded women's programs, they began cutting boys' allocations.

And who did they blame? The victims of their own bias. Not directly. Not quite time for that. They took a bead on Title IX, which has given countless women access not only to Olympic competitions that have made this nation proud, but to the whole range of 21st century economic life.

This does not mean that the sports rules of Title IX may not need tweaking. While women tend to outnumber men in college, more men appear interested in sports. This means that more athletic men are proportionately chasing fewer sports dollars. Up to a point, they shouldn't have to. There is also that overspending on football. A win-win solution will require sensitive balance, not clearing a path to the past.

For women, who missed an Equal Rights Amendment by three states, losing Title IX would be like media outlets' losing the First Amendment. Going back isn't acceptable.

Eileen Foley is a Blade associate editor. E-mail: efoley@theblade.com



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