Title IX

Commentary by Pete du Pont

In 1972, Congress passed one of those laws that sounded good on the surface but whose details ultimately turned devilish. Title IX was an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Its goal was to combat sexual discrimination in education. Yet its effect has been to introduce a new kind of discrimination, this time against men's athletic programs. And there could be even worse news around the corner.

In theory, when applied to sports (which wasn't even part of the original legislation's purpose), Title IX is supposed to level the playing field for men and women athletes by increasing opportunities for women. There are three ways colleges and universities can show they're complying with the law (and thereby not lose federal funding, the mailed fist in the velvet glove of the Education Department's persuasive powers). First, they can show "proportionality" in the number of male and female athletes. In other words, if the school had 55 percent female and 45 percent male students, the number of athletes on all the college's teams would have to reflect those percentages. Second, the school can demonstrate it has a history of expansion designed to accommodate women. Finally, it can claim that, numbers aside, the interests of its women athletes are being met.

So as written, Title IX gave universities a certain amount of leeway in their approach to opening up athletics to women students. And while it forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, it also stated that schools weren't required to grant preferential treatment to women to redress any imbalance that might exist.

That was Congress' intention. But once the genie was out of the bottle and seized and handcuffed by federal bureaucrats -- the course of Title IX's hoped-for justice was perverted.

To begin with, the second and third methods of compliance were all but forgotten. So-called "proportionality" became the only way to measure women's participation. And proportionality quickly degenerated into a cold, clinical numbers game. In a word -- quotas -- which were specifically not the goal of the original legislation.

It's simple. Your university has 55 percent women students and 45 percent men. Your athletic programs have 60 percent men and 40 percent women. Congratulations. You are out of compliance.

Again, let me stress this result is not the law's original intention, but it's the interpretation the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has chosen to give it. And since that's the law, colleges have to play the quota game. They can scramble to recruit more female athletes (nothing wrong with that) or reduce the number of men (plenty wrong there). Both have been effective. From 1985 to 1997, opportunities for female athletes increased 16 percent, according to the General Accounting Office. But you can only manufacture so much enthusiasm. People play sports not because a government bureaucrat tells them to, but because they love sports. And whatever quotas can't be met by recruiting women have to be met by ditching men. Consequently, colleges have dropped 350 men's programs since 1992, purely to placate the quota-heads at the Department of Education.

Often the trade-off is blatant, as when a men's sport is dropped to make way for a women's. Sometimes the effect is more subtle, as when men's teams aren't added simply because it would make the percentage of school athletes disproportional to the student body as a whole. If Title IX was working properly, men and women with ability and interest should get equal chances to participate in sports. It doesn't mean that college administrators should have to create women's teams, and dump men's, to satisfy a quota.

But they do. And the practical effect for students is that if Jane doesn't want to play volleyball, Dick is not allowed to play golf.

So, that's the bad Title IX news. The really bad news is that academics are next. Let's say your 55 percent men-45 percent women campus is male-heavy in electrical engineering or chemistry. It is a short step to say that male chemistry enrollment must be limited to fit the Title IX quota. Or suppose women's grades show a lower percentage of As and Bs than those of men in the same classes. Twenty years ago a federal lawsuit over sex discrimination in grading would have been the stuff of fantasy. Today, it is just around the corner.

In the mean time, my condolences to the male athletes who've lost their opportunity to play sports over the past seven years. You are the victims of quotas; in sports, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how the Washington establishment plays the numbers game.



The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues. The NCPA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in Washington, D.C.