Wrestling coaches ask: Does Title IX hurt men?

by Sabrina Peric | 10/23/02 5:00am

In January of 2002, the National Wrestling Coaches Association filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Justice in hopes of eliminating gender quotas from the controversial Title IX regulations.

The NWCA claimed that Title IX is responsible for the gradual disappearance of lower-profile men's sports across the country, including wrestling, because schools are cutting men's programs to comply with Title IX.

"The impetus for [the complaint] has come, in fact, from the wholesale elimination of what we call the traditional men's Olympic sports, not just wrestling," executive director of the NWCA Mike Moyer said. "We've lost over 90 track programs in the last decade."

On the 30th anniversary of Title IX, athletic administrators are trying to figure out not only what the civil rights amendment means for women, but also what it means for men. And one major question often dominates in the public debate: does Title IX hurt men's athletics?

The answer depends on who you ask.

Supporters of the 1972 legislation say that men's programs themselves are to blame for the gradual disappearance of such sports as wrestling, arguing that expensive men's football and basketball programs drain money from lower profile teams. Detractors blame the way Title IX has been enforced.

In its current form, Title IX requires compliance to one of three prongs in the resolution. The first prong demands that the percentage of female athletes at a school be equivalent to the percentage of female students in general.

The second prong holds that a school demonstrates a history of improving gender equity.

The third prong holds that a school can comply by accommodating all the athletic interests and needs of its students.

Institutions can comply with Title IX by meeting any one of these standards. However, the majority of the debate over Title IX, is over the proportionality rule.

It is this rule that has been cited as the cause of the demise of certain men's sports, all in an attempt to win at a numbers game.

"That's precisely the problem with Title IX, that proportionality is the test of compliance," Jessica Gavora, a critic of the legislation and a senior analyst at the Department of Justice, said. "It's a good law that has been hijacked by a pernicious concept: that a numerical formula should be used to substitute interest and abilities."

In the spring of 2001, Marquette University cut its intercollegiate wrestling program, even though the program was completely funded by outside sources. "This example makes it obvious that [the team] was cut for quota and not for funding reasons," Moyer said. "Their percentage rate didn't meet their enrollment rate."

In that same year, Bucknell cut its wrestling team as well as their men's crew program.

"There has to be serious questions asked as to whether Title IX is the real cause of [the wrestlers'] problems," Dru Hancock, a Big 12 associate commissioner and member of the board of directors for the National Association of Women's Athletic Administrators said.

Hancock pointed out that the bigger problem for men's sports on college campuses is other men's sports. "If you look at the allocation of dollars on campuses, it favors the men two-to-one in terms of dollars spent."

The majority of funds on campuses across the country are dedicated to two primary teams: men's football and basketball. Not only do these two sports draw funding away from other sports, but with average football rosters in the NCAA reaching 94 last year, they also greatly skew the proportionality game in Title IX.

"If we were to go back now to all those institutions and tell them that you don't have to comply with the [proportionality] prong, it doesn't mean that the wrestling programs would get picked up again," Hancock explained. "Clearly you can get more headlines by labeling Title IX as the problem."

"Title IX was never intended to cut men's sports," Hancock emphasized, "but to provide opportunities for women."

Some opponents are more critical of how Title IX has been interpreted and enforced over the 30 years since its passage than they are of the original legislation itself.

"Title IX has never been amended and should not be amended," Gavora said. "What needs to be changed is the regulation about its implementation. That's where the proportionality test comes from...and it needs to be thrown out."

These Title IX opponents say the situation for low profile men's teams will only get worse as women continue to comprise an ever-greater proportion of students in higher education. Female enrollment is projected to reach 58.3 percent by 2010, according to numbers provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

"But you start to look at student populations and realize that rising female enrollment comes from women that are older, not traditional students," Gavora said. "They do not want to play lacrosse and this notion, that because they are present on campus means they should be athletes, is flawed."

Gavora strongly favors more emphasis on the third prong of Title IX, dealing with interest.

"Schools can establish interest in athletics among both current and prospective students and then they should be obligated under law to reasonably accommodate that interest," Gavora said.

Moyer, however, argued that "no one has been able to find a tool that everyone can agree with to measure interest."

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