Title IX Opponents A Bunch of Sad Sacks


By Sally Jenkins
Monday, June 24, 2002; Page D01

Women are pigs, too. Given half a chance, a little proportionality and opportunity, look what happens to them. If the modern woman has a body like a whiplash and a mouth like one, too, if needlework is no longer her chief occupation, I say blame it on Title IX.

The law turned 30 years old this week, and its alarming effects are everywhere in evidence. For one thing, thanks to Title IX, some college football teams might have to fly commercial to Hawaii this season, instead of charter. And they probably won't get a new soft ice cream dispenser for the athletic department cafeteria, or a locker room pool table with custom-dyed felt in school colors, or a mahogany conference table in the shape of a mascot, inlaid in ebony. There's only one direction in which to point the finger of blame for this -- straight at women. The new swine.

Title IX has given women a terrible gift that previously belonged strictly to guys: the ability to shove an opponent out of the way. The permission to lower a shoulder and explore the capacities of one's muscle, and to take from others without apology, is the most direct result of the law, both literally and figuratively. It has allowed an entire sex to establish its physical competence, and therefore its professional credibility -- and now no job or sport or entitlement is safe. As New York then-mayor Ed Koch said, when he decided to allow women to join the fire department, "I don't care if she's a man or woman, as long as she can carry a 250-pound mayor out of a burning building."

In fact, you could make the case that Title IX is the real Equal Rights Amendment. Arguably no other piece of social legislation in the last 50 years has had a more profound redistributing effect in American society. "It's transformational," according to NBA Commissioner David Stern. Who, clearly, has gone native.

In 1972 when Title IX passed, only one in 27 girls participated in a varsity sport. Now, nearly one in two does -- an absolutely seismic shift from the decorative to the active. All of which begs the question of why such a good and effective law is under nearly constant legal attack.

The answer is, Those Women Are Trying to Kill Football.

The dirty little secret about Title IX is that it never has been fully enforced -- and can't be without serious cuts in football budgets. Last week the National Women's Law Center cited 30 schools for non-compliance, including Notre Dame, Miami and Kansas State. The law states that schools receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. What this means for athletic departments is that they must award scholarships equitably in proportion to the makeup of the student body. At K-State, 49 percent of the students are women, and female athletic participation is 52 percent. But women receive only 35 percent of athletic scholarships.

Smart opponents of Title IX stigmatize the law by calling it a "quota." It's an effective word -- what they mean to suggest by it is that Title IX is a jury-rigged social contrivance designed to give a minority a leg up in the world, at the expense of other more deserving souls, and basic fairness. The word automatically attracts conservative intellectuals, to whom a quota is an anathema.

This is a doubly neat trick because what it does is pit the "Have Nots" against the "Have Nots." (Despots have maintained an iron grip on the littles for centuries this way.) Opponents love to cite the fact that 170 men's wrestling programs have been discontinued in the last 20 years, as schools have made cuts to comply with Title IX. Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley recently expressed the view, which is common among his colleagues, that Title IX comes "at the expense of" smaller men's sports. The implication here is that if male wrestlers want to blame somebody, blame women athletes.

But the real "expense" here is football -- and sometimes men's basketball. Women haven't cut men's wrestling -- predominantly male athletic directors have because they didn't want to make far more painful and unpopular decisions. Seventy percent of Division I athletic budgets are devoted to football and men's basketball. But in 1999, only 41 percent of football teams and 51 percent of basketball teams broke even. The rest were in the red.

Athletic directors chronically overspend on football and basketball, keeping up with the Joneses, and hoping that a big bowl season or an NCAA tournament berth will return a cash windfall. This is a form of gambling. But administrators won't admit this -- their deficits couldn't be a matter of bad management.

So it must be a bad law.

Sports Illustrated for Women editor Susan Casey cited a classic example of specious management and Title IX scapegoating in a recent essay. In 1995 UCLA administrators cut its men's swimming and gymnastics teams, attributing this to effects of Title IX. The school saved exactly $266,490 by doing away with the sports. Meantime, its football budget was more than $6.5 million.

If you doubt Title IX is a good and needed law, simply ask yourself what would happen if it were gutted or repealed. How many scholarships and resources would Division I athletic directors devote to women's sports? The answer is, the Connecticut women's basketball team would be holding bake sales to buy uniforms.

Title IX is not some tortured piece of social activism that favors a minority. It's a law designed to ensure that fully one-half of the American population gets basic rights in the classroom and on the playing field. Those who would tar it as a shaky form of affirmative action should be careful. These same people have defended athletic scholarships for years on the same basis -- and scores of male football and basketball players have brought riches to schools they never would have gained admission to academically. Take away the idea of an athletic scholarship as a reparative educational opportunity, and what's left of the NCAA is a minor league that loses its tax-exempt status. And suddenly Notre Dame's bowl money is auditable.

Back when Billie Jean King was lobbying for the passage of Title IX, she got into an argument with her friend Gloria Steinem. King felt Steinem marginalized female athleticism, that she didn't recognize its relevancy or its potency as a tool for advancing equal rights. "You should use us more," King urged Steinem.

Steinem replied, "Billie, this is about politics."

"Gloria," King replied, "We are politics."

King was right. If all legal challenges to Title IX ultimately fail, and they do, one reason is that the law didn't just change the way women see themselves. It's changed the way boys see girls, and therefore how men see women. Now if you tell a Little League dad that his daughter can't play shortstop with the boys, he doesn't take her home and dry her tears.

He sues.

2002 The Washington Post Company