Below is a guest column of mine published in The Seattle Times last August
regarding the perception of Title IX's being responsible for decreasing
athletic participation for males. I am a Washington State Senator, as well
as on the faculty at the University of Washington, teaching "Gender Equity
in Education" for the past 14 years.
Title IX's success makes it an easy target for misguided criticism
by State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
The recent World Cup victory by the U.S. women's soccer team has
been held up as the shining moment in the 27-year history of Title IX,
prohibits sex discrimination in education.
President Clinton called the players "Daughters of Title IX",
indeed, it's gratifying to see such performance excellence on the field
knowing that it was due, in part, from expanded opportunity for girls to
Ironically, with Title IX so fully in the spotlight, criticism
growing, and the landmark civil rights provision is becoming a scapegoat to
some, supposedly responsible for an "unintended tragedy": that of men's
sports being cut at colleges and universities because of the need to
increase women's participation.
A recent flurry of press and media coverage has claimed that men
suffering because of Title IX. This isn't fair and it's misleading.
Additionally, other misconceptions, exaggerations, and outright untruths
about it have been repeated often enough that they are now becoming part of
the repertoire of "facts" that just aren't factual.
First is the myth that Title IX is only about gender equity in
sports. It's not. Enacted by Congress in 1972 as part of the education
amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it covers all programs, services,
and activities operated by schools and colleges that receive federal funds.
Not so long ago, pre-Title IX girls and boys were separated in school
courses, such as home economics for girls and shop classes for boys. There
were different abilities tests and interest inventories used to help young
people investigate career options, different criteria for membership in
honor societies, and even exclusively male and female school clubs.
However, sports is what pushes people's hot buttons. And with
ire comes the myth that Title IX is only about gender quotas. Again, this
isn't fair and it's misleading - it's about equal opportunity to
participate. A three-pronged test is used by the courts and the U.S.
for Civil Rights to determine Title IX compliance in sports participation.
A school can use any one of the prongs in demonstrating compliance:
substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for male and
a history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for
under-represented sex; or
full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities
the under-represented sex.
Schools tend to use the first prong, which is the most
however, it's not the only one used and it does not have to be used. And,
in fact, not one school has ever lost federal funding due to non-compliance
with Title IX.
Another myth is that Title IX has gone too far, resulting in
teams being cut. Critics claim that in order to achieve Title IX
compliance, some schools have had to drop men's teams as there is
insufficient interest among female students to increase the number of
While I agree that cutting teams can be tragic for the athletes
involved, Title IX should not be blamed. The reality is that cutting men's
non-revenue-generating sports has been the way many colleges have chosen to
respond instead of reducing football participation (which with basketball
consumes 73 percent of the average Division I-A schools' total men's sports
budgets) or by increasing women's opportunities to bring them up to parity
with men. But how many football players do we need sitting on the bench as
compared to providing for men's wrestling, baseball, or swimming which are
the sports most frequently cut? While we're fortunate that U.W.'s football
program generates revenue (which helps women's sports programs), 62 percent
of Division I-A and I-AA football programs have large deficits, not
surpluses. The truth is that Title IX is not to blame for budget
constraints nor some schools' priorities that short-change men's minor
sports in favor of football!
The fact is, though, that across the country women still lag
in college athletic participation. In June, the federal General Accounting
Office released a report on student-athlete participation rates at NCAA
member schools. Even though between 1985-86 and 1996-97 the total number
of male undergraduate athletes fell 12 percent while the total number of
female undergraduate athletes rose 16 percent, women still represent just
percent of all college athletes. Overall, 9.7 percent of male
undergraduates are athletes compared to 5.3 percent of female
undergraduates. The goal for these and all schools should not be to cut
men's sports, but to increase women's offerings.
Additionally, this is a crisis that just isn't present in
Washington. Not one of our six four- year institutions has dropped a men's
sport in the last two years, although some men's (and women's!) sports have
been cut over the last decade or so. When school representatives are asked
the reasons for dropping sports, the ones mentioned repeatedly are lack of
student (male) interest, budgetary constraints, and lack of competitors.
At one point the Evergreen State College went from eight
sports to two because of general budget constraints (they currently offer
four sports to both men and women). Eastern Washington University dropped
men's wrestling because other schools had - there simply no longer were
teams to compete against.
Only Central Washington University mentioned Title IX when asked
it dropped men's soccer, but that it was just one factor of several in its
decision. The University of Washington has added women's sports, such as
soccer, without limiting men's opportunities and would have no problem
whatsoever in adding more teams, as demonstrated by the high level of
participation in women's intramural (club) sports, such as water polo,
squash, and skiing. According to Marie Tuite, U.W. Senior Associate
Athletic Director, "If you build them, they will come."
Our state has one of the highest proportions of women among its
student athletes -- 45 percent, which has mirrored the participation of
girls in high school sports. This is due largely to the Blair v.
State University State Supreme Court case from the 1980s, resulting in
participation in intercollegiate athletics being targeted to the ratio of
men and women in the student body. In addition, we have gender equity
tuition waivers, enacted in 1989, mainly from the efforts of Sen. Ken
Jacobsen (D-Seattle) and made permanent by the Legislature last year. They
have helped in adding women's sports and in providing alternatives to
All in all, we need to level the playing field and continue
up the athletic fields to more women - not at the expense of men, but out
of fairness to women. The growth in female participation in sports over
last two decades shows that, when given the opportunity, women will come,
compete, sweat, strive, score, and win. And when you see this - whether
it's on the soccer field at the neighborhood school, or at the World Cup
final - it's a sign of the success and importance of Title IX.
Editor's Note: State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles represents the people of the
36th District. She is chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and
serves on the Senate Education, Human Services & Corrections, and Ways &
Means committees. She is also a lecturer in the Women Studies Department
the University of Washington.
Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles
36th Legislative District
Washington State Senate
(360) 786-7670 (Olympia)
(206) 281-5493 (district office)
(206) 285-1869 (home office)
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