Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Dozens of student athletes and coaches from colleges that have lost their teams because of Title IX enforcement will be rallying at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters today to urge reform of the federal anti-discrimination measure they say is unfair.

The rally is being billed as the largest event ever held to protest provisions of Title IX that instruct colleges receiving federal funds to ensure the proportion of male and female athletes reflects the general student population. About 150 people are expected to participate in the 11 a.m. event, organizers said.

Leading today’s protest will be representatives of 10 varsity teams at Virginia’s James Madison University. The teams are slated to be eliminated next July to comply with Title IX.

Sixty-one percent of the 17,000-member JMU student body is female and 39 percent male, so under Title IX, 61 percent of athletes should be women.

The JMU teams affected include seven men’s and three women’s teams or a total of 144 students and 11 coaches. “Men and women are standing together in this protest,” said Jim McCarthy, spokesman for the College Sports Council, a national coalition of college coaching groups, as well as coaches, athletes, parents and educators.

He noted that an official of the Independent Women’s Forum, as well as the coach and all members of JMU’s women’s swimming team, will be among the protesters. The women’s swim team would not be cut, but members want to make it clear that they object to the loss of JMU’s male swimming team and nine other teams, Mr. McCarthy said.

Other teams to be cut are men’s archery, cross country, gymnastics, indoor track, outdoor track and wrestling, and women’s archery, gymnastic and fencing.

Today’s protesters will include Wade Hughes, who recently lost his job as wrestling coach at Howard University because of Title IX enforcement. “The same thing happened to him two years ago at George Washington University,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Title IX legislation dates back to 1972. But Mr. McCarthy said it was guidelines President Clinton added in 1996 that said “schools had to make athletic rosters identical with enrollment which made quotas inescapable.”

He and others seeking the abolition of the proportionality requirement would like to see it replaced with surveys colleges would provide students when they register to assess their ability and interest in participating in various sports.

Lilian Dorka, an Education Department spokeswoman, said some protesters today will be meeting with the department’s two most senior civil rights officials after the rally.

Asked whether the proportionality provisions of Title IX could be changed, she said that would be “a very complex issue,” and there would “first have to be a legal assessment.”

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