Title IX report due Wednesday

A federal advisory commission is scheduled to send Education Secretary Rod Paige about two dozen recommendations Wednesday for resolving the emotionally charged debate about funding for men’s and women’s sports programs.

But the 70-page report, which is already drawing fire, is unlikely to be the last word in a controversy about how high schools and colleges apportion sports funding.

“It is more of a first step in a long process to look at the application of the law,” said Ted Leland, co-chair of the 15-member commission and athletic director at Stanford University.

And Leland anticipates that critics and supporters of the 1972 statute known as Title IX will be less than satisfied with the recommendations. “They will get attacked from both sides,” he said.

The recommendations include a variety of ideas for clarifying how Title IX should be enforced, ranging from education efforts to encouraging schools to recruit more female athletes. Important to advocates for men’s athletics is a provision declaring that cutting teams to maintain gender balance be a disfavored practice.

The report was under fire Monday as women’s groups charged that the recommendations would give the secretary of education the power to weaken the law. If implemented, they said, millions of dollars in athletic scholarships and thousands of playing opportunities for college women would be lost.

At least two members plan to break ranks with the commission and issue a minority report Wednesday. And leading Democratic senators are expected to lend their support to dissenting commission members Donna de Varona, an Olympic swimming champion and a founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Julie Foudy, the current president of the sports foundation.

“It leaves the door wide open for the secretary do whatever he wants with Title IX,” said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the sports foundation and former women’s athletic director at the University of Texas.

Paige plans to study the recommendations but has not set a timetable for taking action, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for Paige.

Title IX was enacted in 1972 and prohibits schools receiving federal money from discriminating on the basis of sex, including in athletic programs. Today’s controversy stems from clarifications to the law issued in 1996 by Education Department.

The 1996 language established standards for colleges to budget funds, including a highly controversial but frequently used measure that allocates money based on male and female enrollments.

Critics contend that the standard has had the unintended consequence of forcing schools to cut men’s opportunities and fold entire teams to divert funds to women’s programs. Last year, the National Wrestling Coaches Association filed suit in U.S. District Court to force the Education Department to rewrite the rules its uses to enforce Title IX.

“This is denying boys opportunities,” said Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. He said the commission’s recommendations may not go far enough, but said the panel demonstrated there is broad support for changes.

Even critics of the proportionality standard agree that Title IX has vastly improved the opportunities and participation of women in sports.

According to the General Accounting Office, 2.7 million girls participate in high school athletics, up from just 294,015 in 1971. And growth at the college level has been explosive: The Education Department said women’s teams increased 66 percent between 1981 and 1999.

But men’s programs still outpace women’s when it comes to participation and funding.

According to the NCAA’s latest figures, men get 59 percent of athletic opportunities compared with 41 percent for women. Similarly, 64 percent of operating expenses and 68 percent of recruiting budgets are allocated to men’s programs.

After holding six town hall meetings, the commission in January voted unanimously to support 15 of the panel’s 23 recommendations. But several provisions were still being hotly debated last week – all of which would modify the proportionality standard.

While the commission did not vote to discard the standard, it crafted recommendations that would give colleges other methods for determining how to apportion money to men’s and women’s programs.

Those recommendations would allow schools to conduct surveys to determine male and female interest in various sports. Schools also would be able to add non-scholarship, walk-on male athletes without having to add compensating female athletes.

And another recommendation would allow schools to simply split funds 50-50 with 2 to 3 percentage points of variation.

After his review, Paige has several options. He could direct the Education Department to write new guidelines. Or the Bush administration could opt to codify more substantive changes with regulatory reforms or legislative proposals.

Like many other civil rights issues, athletic experts said the Title IX controversy might have to be resolved in court.

And Lopiano said the Bush administration should not expect the Republican-controlled Congress to automatically sign on. She said many GOP constituents have encouraged their daughters to swim, play soccer and basketball and they would object to initiatives to weaken Title IX.

“Women have come too far in sports,” Lopiano said.