In one of UCLA's proudest moments, UCLA-trained swimmers and gymnasts dominated the 1984 Summer Olympics. Half of the gold-medal winning men's gymnastic team were Bruins. Yet, despite producing 22 Olympic swimming competitors and dozens of world-class gymnasts, these UCLA men's teams were eliminated less than a decade later. In fact, over the past five years more than 350 men's collegiate athletic teams have been eliminated nationwide, and the number of men's gymnastics teams has fallen from 200 to just 21. What happened?
These athletic programs were not felled by mismanagement, drugs, or rules violations. They were destroyed by something far more dangerous than a triple full twist off the parallel bars or a reverse three and a half somersaults dive. They were destroyed by Title IX.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 barred sex discrimination in any educational program or activity which receives federal funding. In the decades since, women's athletics have burgeoned in high schools and colleges. Title IX was and remains an important and laudable victory for the women's movement.
More recently, however, misguided feminist lawsuits and political lobbying have changed Title IX from a vehicle to open up opportunities for women to a scorched earth policy whereby the destruction of men's athletics has become an acceptable substitute for strengthening women's athletics.
Feminists have used an obscure, hastily prepared bureaucratic action--known now as the 1979 Policy Interpretation--to mandate that the number of athletes in college athletic programs reflect within a few percentage points the proportion of male and female students on campus. The problem is, as studies have shown, fewer women than men are interested in playing organized sports, even though the opportunity is available. Even in all-female colleges the number of women athletes fall considerably below that needed to satisfy Title IX requirements in co-ed colleges.
The fact that women now outnumber men in college 57%-43% nationwide makes it even harder for schools to achieve the numerical gender balance demanded by the 1979 Policy--an interpretation never reviewed or approved by Congress. Time and again the Federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has investigated schools and allowed them only two options to meet Title IX--create new women's teams for which there often are neither funds nor interested female athletes, or cut men's teams.
Thus women have gained a little but men have lost a lot. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for every new women's athletics slot created between 1992 and 1997, 3.6 male athletes were dropped. During the same period, colleges added 5,800 female athletes--and cut 20,000 male athletes. Kimberly Schuld, director of the Independent Women's Forum's Title IX Play Fair! Project, calls this "clear, government-sanctioned sex discrimination."
Critics of modern Title IX point out that its equity calculations are misleading in part because they count college football's athletes and dollars without considering football's money-making ability. USC, for example, has been hit hard by feminist legal action based on its greater number of male athletes and higher men's athletic budget. What's not considered is that USC's men's teams--largely football--are responsible for over 99% of the near $20 million total revenue of the Athletic Department. At UCLA, football alone accounts for $15 million in revenue every year--over 40% of UCLA athletics' total. In fact, over 70% of Division I-A football programs turn a profit.
Thus schools are caught in a vise. Because schools need football's revenue yet must also equalize gender numbers, they are forced to cut men's non-revenue sports.
Todd R. Dickey, USC's general counsel, Schuld, and many others argue that football should simply be taken out of the gender equity equation because no other sport earns as much revenue, has such a large number of athletes or staff, and needs as much equipment.
"You can't spend as much on women's sports as you can on men's, because there is no women's equivalent for football," Dickey says.
Title IX's modern application has struck hardest at minority men. Lawsuits brought to balance the number of athletic scholarships awarded to men and women have decreased the number and value of men's scholarships, upon which minority men often rely to finance their educations. Black colleges and universities, where female students outnumber males 60%-40% and money is usually tight, have been particularly wounded by feminist lawsuits. And when Title IX forces schools to drop their football programs, as San Francisco State did in 1995, it is black athletes who are hurt disproportionately.
While modern Title IX has been devastating for male and particularly for minority male athletes, it has also hurt female athletics. By allowing the destruction of men's teams to substitute for increasing the number of women's teams, universities have been stripped of the incentive to build more and better female squads. A school that has six female teams and nine male teams may find it much easier to cut men's teams than to provide the new money and resources to create more women's teams.
At the same time, because a school's Title IX compliance is now judged largely on the basis of the number of athletes, if cutting men's teams isn't workable, then it's often better for a school to add a few new women's teams, even if the teams and athletes are marginal, than it is to improve the
facilities and training of existing teams.
The situation cries out for a flexible athletics policy based on student interest levels instead of rigid proportionality. Title IX states "no person...shall, on the basis of sex...be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Misguided women's advocates have used a bureaucratic obscurity to undermine these simple yet high-minded words, and turn Title IX from an instrument used to fight sex discrimination into a policy mandating it.
This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News (9/7/01).