Tuesday, May 8, 2007

EIA Op-Ed in USA Today

EIA is the organization suing the U.S. Department of Education, James Madison U., and Ohio University over illegal enforcement of the proportionality rule, established in 1996, that does not have legal merit.

Repeal unwise standards

By Larry Joseph Mon May 7, 6:37 AM ET

With controversial subjects such as Title IX in sports, it is worth noting areas of wide agreement, which give perspective to the narrow dispute. Title IX's athletics regulations have three components: scholarships; other benefits, such as facilities; and which sports to field. There is no dispute over scholarships and other benefits.

Within the third component, no one disputes regulations adopted in 1975 requiring schools to equally accommodate the interests of both genders. Everyone is for "equal." But we disagree on what it means. The dispute centers on whether schools must provide equal opportunity, based on interest (the 1975 standard) or equal participation in proportion to their overall ratio of men to women (a standard adopted in the 1996).

Under the 1975 standard, schools would not dream of cutting, say, men's track but not women's if there was interest in the sport among both genders. Indeed, the Ford administration adopted that standard to prohibit schools from supporting a team for only one gender when both genders showed interest. That standard applied equally to sports traditionally played by only one gender. If a school fielded sports played predominantly by men, such as wrestling, it would also field sports played predominantly by women, such as field hockey. And vice versa.

The 1975 standard drove the tremendous growth in women's sports, and no one proposes its repeal.

Under the 1996 standard, however, schools that already meet the 1975 standard nonetheless feel compelled to cut down to enrollment proportionality. Increasingly, those cuts include small-roster women's programs such as gymnastics and tennis. Dishearteningly, such schools could keep their existing programs, but for proportionality's pressure to produce equal results, something neither required nor allowed in other areas such as nursing, dance or math.

Even when schools cut teams for purely financial reasons, proportionality exacerbates the cuts and targets men and small-roster women's teams. And schools often refuse alumni offers fully to endow teams cut for "financial" reasons. The proportionality requirement is to blame, and its repeal is essential to equity and athletics.

Larry Joseph is a counsel to Equity in Athletics Inc., a non-profit group suing the Education Department over the interpretation of Title IX.

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