- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

A Bush administration panel considering changes in Title IX federal mandates that require cuts in men's collegiate athletics moved yesterday to temper these requirements, and strongly endorsed strengthening support for women's athletics.
A major target of the majority on the panel is the Office for Civil Rights' strict enforcement of "proportionality," adopted in 1999, which decrees that support for male and female athletics be proportional to the percentages of men and women enrolled in the schools. The civil rights enforcement allows a variance of 1 percent to 3 percent.
Critics of the proportionality rule say it has required elimination of numerous men's programs to accommodate financing of programs for women. "There are many men's wrestling, gymnastics, swimming teams that have gone away," Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the University of Iowa's athletics director for 12 seasons, said yesterday. "No one anywhere is adding men's teams."
The panel said with emphasis, however, that it was not retreating from supporting women's athletic programs. "We have stated in the most unequivocal terms our support for Title IX," said Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier, one of the 15 members of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. The panel approved three recommendations in quick succession for the U.S. Department of Education to "reaffirm its strong commitment to equal opportunity for girls and boys, women and men."
Mr. Spanier and 11 other commission members stayed together on several key votes.
Voting against them were three female members, led by Julie Foudy, president of the Women's Sports Foundation and captain of the U.S. national women's soccer team, who sought to put the panel on record in favor of Clinton administration parity policies that are opposed by the big-time football schools and a consortium of coaches' associations.
Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972, intended to protect from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities funded with federal money. The law is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
Miss Foudy could not win approval for a recommendation that the Office for Civil Rights "should not, directly or indirectly, change current policies in ways that would undermine the spirit and purpose of existing interpretations."
Miss Foudy and the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education dismissed Mr. Bowlsby's assertions, saying that the real financial problem is caused by schools giving high-profile sports such as football and men's basketball a disproportionate share of available funding.
The panel today will consider a recommendation that federally funded colleges and universities covered by Title IX would be expected to allocate 50 percent of their sports "participation opportunities" for men and 50 percent for women. But under the recommendation, the Office for Civil Rights would allow a 5 percent to 7 percent variance in compliance with the standard. This would permit schools to have 43 percent to 45 percent of sports positions filled by women, even if their numbers in the school population are higher.
"The commission's proposals tell schools they can comply with Title IX while falling far short of equal opportunity for women and girls," Leslie Annexstein, vice chairman of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, said. "It is not only outrageous but insulting to women and girls, and their fathers and brothers, across this country."
Supporters of restraining enforcement argue that many schools today have "nontraditional students," such as older, married women and mothers who return to college later in life to finish their degrees, who are not interested in participating in sports. They say such students should not be counted to determine whether school athletic programs comply with Title IX. Various parity recommendations under consideration by the panel also were attacked by members of the College Sports Council, a consortium of college coaches, who say they amount to a form of affirmative action.
"It's still a quota," said council member H. Clay McEldowney, president of a civil engineering firm in Clinton, N.J. "That's unconstitutional."
Commissioner Thomas B. Griffith, general counsel for Brigham Young University in Utah, said yesterday that quotas were forbidden by the 1972 federal statute containing Title IX. He persuaded the panel to quote the provision in its upcoming report to Education Secretary Rod Paige.
"To omit that Title IX expressly bars quotas is a significant omission," Mr. Griffith said in the draft report. The panel is scheduled to end two days of deliberations today at the Hotel Washington in the District. It will send a report of its nonbinding recommendations to Mr. Paige, who will then decide whether to implement them.
The panel's deliberations yesterday began contentiously with Miss Foudy and Commissioner Donna de Varona, who won two gold medals as an Olympic swimmer in the 1960s, accusing the co-chairmen of imposing a "gag order" by denying the chance for minority reports.
"I will participate under protest," Miss de Varona said as the meeting opened. "We are going to have differences of opinion. … Competing arguments are not going to be included in the report."
Miss Foudy said the report should contain "a minority voice … if we're making recommendations that change Title IX and the spirit of Title IX. You're putting a gag order on people who don't agree."
Co-chairman Ted Leland, athletics director at Stanford University in California, said the argument of a gag order was unfair. "No one has gagged you," he said.
He said there were verbatim transcripts of commission meetings, adding that the panel agreed to include brief explanations of minority positions in its report on votes that are closely divided.
The closest vote yesterday was a 7-6 decision in favor of including report language that cited a 1999 study by the conservative Independent Women's Forum.
The study, "Title IX Athletics," showed that students in all-women schools had low interest in sports programs. Participation ranged from 9.2 percent at Smith College to 16.7 percent at Mount Holyoke College, both in Massachusetts.
Two commission members were absent during the vote.
Commissioners Rita J. Simon of American University's School of Public Affairs, and Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive of the Education Leaders Council, argued to include the language, saying it showed the comparative level of interest in women's sports where discrimination was not an issue.
"They're saying there's a gap without explaining all the factors that account for the gap," Independent Women's Forum spokeswoman Charlotte Hayes said of defenders of Title IX parity policies. "It isn't discrimination. Women express interest in going out for college athletics at a lower rate than men. It's just a fact of life."

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