Title IX still has gray areas

Officials weigh in on law prohibiting sex discrimination in sports

Officials weigh in on law prohibiting sex discrimination in sports

March 17, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

It's been 30 years since the pioneering federal law known as Title IX first prohibited sexual discrimination in school sports, activities, and academics.

"Without a doubt, Title IX has opened the doors of opportunity for generations of women and girls to compete, and to pursue their American dreams," U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige said last June, when he created a Commission on Opportunity in Athletics to examine the law.

Girls and women have made enormous strides in catching up.

But as worthy as Title IX is, it's confusing and could be tightened, according to the commission's report, submitted last month.


Any public or postsecondary school that receives federal funding is subject to Title IX.

For athletics, Title IX regulates balance in the number of athletes, equipment, funding, and other areas, and has a three-part test to measure compliance.

Part one says that the number of athletic opportunities must be "substantially proportionate" to a school's male-female student body ratio.

The second part says one sex may be underrepresented, if a school has a "continuing practice of program expansion" for that sex.

The third part says a school doesn't have to meet the first two clauses, if it shows it has accommodated the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics' report lists questions and concerns about the law, such as the vagueness of "substantially proportionate" and the uncertain intent of the second and third clauses.

Officials at four Tri-State school districts surveyed this month interpreted the proportionality clause as applying to the number of sports, not slots on sports teams.

For example, Washington County Public Schools has eight boys' sports and 10 girls' sports. Another nine sports are considered "coed" because they're open to both boys and girls.

However, football and wrestling - two overwhelmingly male sports - are among the coed offerings because it's impractical to have female teams as equivalents to male teams.

Washington County's student body population for grades 9 through 12 - the grades for which sports are offered - is about 50 percent male and 50 percent female, according to Eugene "Yogi" Martin, the supervisor of health, physical education and athletics.

A look at sports at Martinsburg High School in Berkeley County, W.Va., shows how much classifications can affect statistics.

The school lists eight male sports, 10 female sports and four coed sports.

Using those groupings, the school has 154 boys in boys' sports, 180 girls in girls' sports and 112 athletes in coed sports.

Three of the four coed sports teams - varsity/junior varsity football, freshman football and wrestling - are entirely male.

Group those athletes with the boys' teams and the figures become 252 boys, 180 girls and 14 members of the school's golf team. A gender breakdown of the golf team was not available.

Overall, 377 boys and 502 girls play sports in Berkeley County - not including 360 athletes on coed teams.

If the football players and wrestlers - all male - are moved from "coed" to the "boys" category, the totals are 659 boys, 502 girls and 78 athletes in coed sports.

The school district meets the standards for Title IX outlined by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission, said Laura Sutton, an attorney who monitors compliance for the district.

Of the district's 3,706 students in grades 9 through 12, about 51 percent are female and 49 percent are male, according to Deputy Superintendent Frank Aliveto.

"It seems like they all have the same opportunities," Sutton said.

Two calls to the Athletic Commission for this story were not returned.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., enforces Title IX.

Susan Aspey, a deputy press secretary at the Department of Education, said Title IX considers slots on teams, not teams themselves, as the basis for proportionality.

Asked if football can be considered a coed sport, Aspey replied by e-mail, "Since it is the number of participants, the fact there are no girls is key. Just letting both sexes try out makes no difference."

The Waynesboro Area School District has 537 boys and 459 girls in grades 9 through 11, according to Athletic Director Dan McLaughlin.

Yet, there are 10 sports for girls and eight sports for boys. The girls' sports include cheerleading, which Title IX does not treat as a sport.

For many schools - especially colleges - football is a large problem because squads are several times as big as female teams, greatly tipping the balance toward male athletes.

In Waynesboro, though, three field hockey teams, with a combined 45 or 50 slots, let girls keep pace, McLaughlin said.

Overall, "as far as the number of spots, they're pretty equal ...," he said. "It's the land of opportunity."

Interest is a key component of Title IX. Schools must measure it and meet it, whenever possible.

A program will fail, though, if it's added solely to balance numbers and not because anyone asked for it.

"Interest is caught, not taught," he said. "We can't make somebody be interested."

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