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Colleges sort out pros, cons of newly approved Title IX changes

Saturday, February 1, 2003

To help explain what's been going on with Title IX, look at George Washington University's cross country team.

Athletic director Jack Kvancz designates the same number of roster spots -- usually about 13 -- for both men's and women's cross country. It's no problem getting enough men to fill all the spots. In fact, there are usually too many.

But it wasn't always easy getting enough women.

To keep the numbers right, the extra men had to be cut, and more women had be coaxed into running. All the spots needed to be filled, so as not to throw the numbers out of balance and stay within the bounds of the very complex law.

That scenario would change under a recommendation approved Thursday by the Bush administration's Title IX commission. The contentious proposal, one of many that will go to Education Secretary Rod Paige for consideration, would give George Washington credit for 13 slots for both sports, regardless of the actual number of runners.

The extra walk-ons on the men's team wouldn't count and wouldn't have to be cut. If not enough women try out, the school still gets credit for 13.

"If I have 15 jerseys for pingpong for men and 15 jerseys for pingpong for women and if one of the genders decides not to use all of those spots, I'm not sure the university is doing anything wrong in providing the opportunity," Kvancz said.

Making their case

It sounds straightforward, but critics are expected to claim that there are plenty of women who want to run cross country -- in fact, these days Kvancz has no trouble filling the team -- and that schools would give lip service to recruiting women if they know all the slots don't have to be filled.

Furthermore, with no upper limit on men's teams, there could be scores of extra walk-ons on football teams and other sports. Even though they don't have a scholarship, those players often mean the school has to spend more on uniforms, travel and facilities -- money that critics say should be going to women's sports.

That's why the arguments remained passionate on both sides after the commission finished its work. While the most sweeping proposals to change Title IX were not approved, the recommendations to alter the way athletes and students are tallied and other subtle changes could have a significant effect if they are made part of the law.

"This is no compromise. This is a defeat for us," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. "In this tricky language and lot of confusion, they're reducing opportunities."

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in public and private schools that receive federal funding, which almost all do. It covers admissions, recruitment, course offerings, counseling, financial aid, student health and student housing, as well as athletics, and it has led to a boom in women's high school and college sports since it became law in 1972.

Counting cross country runners is important because the only non-subjective way to comply with Title IX is to show that the male-female ratio of athletes at a school is roughly the same as the male-female ratio of the entire enrollment. The other two methods -- showing an ongoing history of increasing opportunities for women, or showing a full accommodating of women's interests -- are subject to interpretation.

The commission also recommended "nontraditional students" not be counted in the student body for Title IX purposes. Since those students are likely to be female, that change could add roster spots for males.

The Southeast impact

Southeast Missouri State University athletic director Don Kaverman said Thursday's recommendation, regardless of the final decision, would not really affect the way Southeast attempts to comply with Title IX.

Kaverman said that while Southeast's overall enrollment is about 61 percent female, the ratio of male-to-female athletes at the school is about 57 to 43 percent toward males.

"Proportionality was never something we pursued or would pursue. When an institution sponsors football, it's almost impossible to achieve proportionality," Kaverman said. "We've always used that third method or showing a full accommodating of women's interests in our service region. That's one of the reasons we added women's soccer a few years ago."

Added Kaverman of Thursday's recommendation, "The consensus is that they didn't recommend any sweeping reforms, but I think the process was worthwhile. Nobody expected them to totally abandon proportionality, but I do think there needs to be some modifications."

An unintended byproduct of Title IX has been the elimination of men's teams as schools try to comply with the law. Wrestling coaches have filed a lawsuit because they have lost so many teams, and may say these changes could start to reverse that trend.

"This is a great first step, said Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

Some women's groups are troubled by some of the more vague proposals that passed. One recommends that a "reasonable variance" be allowed when schools are calculating the male-female ratio, which could mean a little or a lot depending on how "reasonable" is interpreted.

"Schools are going to make the reasonable variance an excuse" for limiting women's opportunities, Smeal said.

As a father of teen-age daughters, Kvancz is supportive of Title IX, but he has mixed feelings about its impact on economics and men's teams. He more or less approves of the commission's finished product, but wonders whether any of the changes will get through the bureaucracy to become part of the law.

"It can help us if some of things passed, but I don't think it's a panacea. I don't know what the panacea is," Kvancz said. "I don't know where we're going to go with this thing."


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