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The Slow Track

Two decades have elapsed since Title IX banned gender discrimination in federally funded schools, yet equity for women in high school and college sports remains elusive

My Uncle Ebenezer isn't a bad guy. From his midsection, which spills generously over the lip of his Sansabelt slacks, you might guess correctly that he's a college lineman gone slightly to seed. He's loyal and full of pluck, and he tells stem-winding tales about his days in the Big Ten trenches. It's just that sometimes he's as thoughtful as a one-celled animal.

Uncle Eb stumbles several steps down the evolutionary staircase at the simple mention of Title IX, the federal law that has expanded enormously women's opportunities to play sports. In an effort to comply with Title IX after it was enacted 20 years ago, many high schools and colleges scrambled to start athletic programs for girls and women. A few even treated female athletes to resources more or less in line with those afforded to males.

My uncle has never accepted any of this. He likes to call Title IX "Entitled to," as in, "They think they're entitled to this, they think they're entitled to that." I first uttered the phrase gender equity in his presence several years ago, and Uncle Eb, his neck turning crimson, then his jowls chartreuse, finally his brow a mottled mauve, took little solace from my assurances that most schools were largely ignoring Title IX and doing so with impunity. So I should have known what was irking him the other day when he flung the newspaper down in disgust. (You can tell Uncle Eb in the following colloquy; he tends to speak in italics.)

Let me guess. You're upset because USA Today broke the news about your hemorrhoids and you wanted to keep it private.

Impertinent, just like your father. No, it's this damned Title IX gender-equity baloney. Just more Woodstock-era social engineering, being treated as if it's done some good.

Yeah, damn that Title IX. Signed into law 20 years ago by the original wild-eyed left-wing social engineer himself, Richard Nixon. In Title IX, Uncle Sam basically said that an educational institution receiving federal funds can't discriminate on the basis of sex, in sports or anything else. And what does Uncle Ebenezer say?

I say all that gender-bending federal folderol hardly merits celebration.

You wouldn't let Title IX's birthday get under your skin if you picked that paper up again, Uncle Eb. You'd see that women aren't doing a whole lot of celebrating. The NCAA recently conducted a survey on gender equity, and its results were discouraging. Women make up more than half of all college students in the country, yet they make up only a third of athletes in Division I colleges, and not much more in other schools. And they receive only one in three athletic scholarship dollars. Look at operating budgets of college athletic departments, and women get only one in every five dollars. Look at recruiting budgets, and it's even less than that.

Come on. Football makes the money. It already pays so girls with sticks can flounce around in skirts. Why should it pay more?

How can football possibly pay for women's sports? Football can't even pay for itself. It grosses a lot of money but rarely makes any. In 1989 only about 13 percent of the NCAA's 524 football programs covered their expenses. Colorado's football team lost more than $800,000 in 1990, the year it shared the national championship with Georgia Tech.

Besides, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the outfit that's responsible for enforcing Title IX and responding to complaints, has ruled that a sport's ability to produce revenue is irrelevant. What is a college athletic department, anyway? A collection of private entrepreneurships, each entitled to keep any money it generates? That's not how the rest of a university operates. When a physics professor produces some superconductive material in a university lab, it's common intellectual property.

But a winning football team makes alumni happy. Happy alumni open up their wallets. The whole school benefits.

A complete canard. Study after study has shown there's no correlation between success in football and alumni giving.

But not all athletes are created equal. Who needs more equipment—a middle linebacker or a girl squash player?

Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, used to be the women's athletic director at Texas. She's no fool. She knows what it costs to outfit a football player, and she knows it's not reasonable to ask for the same amount of money to dress athletes in other sports. She once said, "I'm not going to buy chinchilla warmups for my basketball team just to be able to say we spend the same amount."

Well, who needs more medical attention, a linebacker or a gymnast?

The Office for Civil Rights allows for different injury rates in different sports. Title IX doesn't require that there be as many medics at a women's golf tournament as at a football game. It doesn't require per capita equality in spending, either. But if the male gymnasts are lodged two to a room on road trips, the female gymnasts shouldn't be lodged four to a room. And if the men's basketball team flies to a game, don't bus the women's team to play the same school.

So I suppose people like you want to see women's football.

There doesn't have to be a women's team in every sport in which there's a men's team. When the feds investigate a Title IX complaint, they're less concerned with comparing teams than with seeing whether men's and women's programs are equitable overall. Title IX is supremely reasonable. It doesn't frown on differences in interest, only on disparity in accommodation. Title IX mandates equity, not equality. Easy to remember, Uncle Eb. Just forget the a and the l.

It's hard to, seeing as they make up most of your name, Alan Alda.

All I'm advocating is good citizenship. It's the law, and it's backed by a threat to withhold federal funds from schools that flout it. But isn't it kind of pathetic that we need any prodding to provide women with the same educational opportunities we provide for men? You've seen the stuffed shirts in those NCAA public-service announcements give their testimonials on behalf of intercollegiate sports: how as athletes they learned to take charge, respond to pressure, grow from failure, work as a team and all that. Hell, I've heard you tell me how much you benefited from sports at school. Anyone who buys that stuff—and corny as it is, I buy a lot of it—can't tell me that women aren't entitled to learn those lessons too. And if you believe they're not entitled, you're way behind the times. The Women's Sports Foundation questioned 1,004 parents recently, and 87 percent said that sports are as important for girls as for boys. That includes 83 percent of the fathers. My father, your impertinent brother, would have firebombed the principal's office if your nieces hadn't been able to run track and play basketball.

But then you hear all this "role model" garbage. That girls need to see other females play sports. If they want to play sports, let 'em play sports. I'm not against any little girl having her fun. Anything else, that's what I mean by social engineering.

Girls aren't the only ones who learn from female role models. Boys can learn plenty from them too. When Lopiano was still at Texas, a Big Brother came up to her at a Lady Longhorns basketball game. He said his nine-year-old Little Brother used to rag on girls, pulling their hair, taunting them and generally treating them with disrespect. But after seeing the Lady Longhorns play, this little boy changed. Now when he meets a girl, he asks her whether she plays basketball. Seeing women do something he respects and seeing them do it well has helped him respect all females. Twenty-five years ago, when I was his age, I was asking girls whether they had cooties.

Don't tell me my nephew was ever anything less than politically correct.

It just goes to show how far we've come. I was a ninth-grader when Title IX was passed. The girls in my high school who played sports were considered social misfits. The popular girls led the cheers at boys' basketball games. Since then, the number of high school girls playing sports has grown sixfold. As that number has risen, attitudes have changed, and the fact that they've changed so quickly only shows how overdue Title IX was.

And now that they have their precious Title IX, they won't stop. Every time I turn around, the ladies are threatening to sue some school because one of their teams is being cut. But men's teams are being cut, too, and men can't scream "Title IX!"

Isn't it funny how the only time colleges treat men's and women's sports identically is when it's time to bring out the knives? Obviously, no one wants to cut any sport. But since there are fewer women's opportunities to begin with, when you cut equally you hurt women disproportionately. That's why schools that cut one women's sport for every men's sport are cruisin' for a Title IX bruisin'. In May 1991, Brown University dropped four sports—two men's (water polo and golf) and two women's (volleyball and gymnastics). The women's teams sued, and the case is pending. Actually, given the Title IX compliance landscape, Brown stacks up fairly well, offering 13 varsity sports for women, 14 for men. Still, men make up 61 percent of Brown's athletes but only 51 percent of its students. Chris Humm, the school's sports information director, said, "If Brown University is not in compliance, then no school in the country is." He may be right. It's possible that no school in the country is.

If no school in the country is, how come we haven't heard more from the women's libbers? They haven't been at the barricades, so I'll bet no one cares.

The Women's Sports Foundation gets calls all the lime from coaches, athletes and parents afraid even to say what state they're phoning from. Callers describe situations of clear Title IX violations and then insist they can't do anything for fear of losing their jobs, their scholarships or their standing in the community. Take the University of Massachusetts. It's a noncompliance poster child. Over the last three years UMass has eliminated the women's volleyball, tennis and lacrosse teams. Meanwhile, the university found the wherewithal to improve its football and baseball stadiums and build a new basketball arena. Yet only this summer did anyone summon the courage to file a complaint (box).

Maybe there aren't that many college girls interested in playing sports. Or maybe they don't have the skills to justify varsity teams. I don't know much about Title IX, but even the federal government wouldn't be stupid enough to require schools to offer sports no one wants to play. Or can play.

Please. Anywhere there's a club sport, you can infer more than enough interest to justify a varsity sport, and right now there are hundreds of women's club teams around the country just begging for varsity status. What college athlete wouldn't prefer to have a first-class coach, a challenging schedule and scholarship support? Of course, if you do such non-compliant things as force the women to practice at insane times and prevent coaches from recruiting, well, no, there might not be much desire to play. But the interest is there, and ability will follow if you're willing to pay enough to hire a coach who won't have to moonlight as an Amway distributor to make ends meet.

But these suffragettes want half of all athletes to be female. That's way out of line. There are always going to be more male athletes because of football.

Well, excuuuse me. I'd always thought there were two sexes, and now you're telling me there are three: male, female and football. C'mon, Uncle Eb. Just because there's no sport for women like football—no sport with a cast of thousands—you can't deny there are many women interested in playing the sports women do play.

Schools have to get on the stick and provide the opportunities. Washington State did, even if it had to be prodded by the courts (box). For the past couple of years the Cougars' percentage of female athletes has been in line with its percentage of female students.

It's easy for you to say schools should just add teams. But this is no time for the ladies to be agitating for new sports. Goodness, look at the deficits some schools are facing.

I'm going to assume you agree that it won't do to say, "I'd rather not be racist or sexist, but, gee, I just can't afford to be otherwise." During tough times it's all the more important to sit down and justify every penny you spend. You know how much the Seton Hall men's basketball team spent on a single dinner during the NCAA tournament last March? Three thousand dollars! The Kentucky men's team recently sent an assistant coach to the Far East simply to scout prospects in a junior college tournament. And football? For a bowl game you need hundreds of thousands of dollars just to fly and lodge an entourage for a week.

Well, a lot of that's booster money, raised privately.

Doesn't matter. When investigators from the Office for Civil Rights take up a Title IX case, they don't care what pedigree the money has. Women should be treated equitably.

Well, specifically, what would you do?

I'd begin with football. It's a bloated bovine treated like a sacred cow, with operating expenses that at a typical football school are more than those of all other men's and women's sports combined. A Division I-A team devours 92 scholarships and pays its coaching staff roughly $500,000. Right now most major conferences will let you take only 65 players to an away game. So why do you need 145 on your roster? Don't tell me you can't make do with 90. NFL teams make do with 47! You can't tell me it's more valuable educationally to have a fifth tier on the football depth chart than to have a women's softball team.

Oh, yes I can.

Well, you certainly couldn't argue that docking football 15 scholarships and a couple of coaches would keep Keith Jackson and 100,000 others from having a grand old time in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. In fact, the game would improve. The major powers wouldn't be able to stockpile recruits simply to keep the have-nots from getting them. Greater parity would generate more fan interest and, ultimately, more money—just as it has in men's basketball.

But I'm not done. I'd install spending caps too. First, I'd put caps on recruiting budgets in football and men's basketball. Recruiting costs are dollars that do no educating whatsoever. And I'd either shorten fall football practice or have the players pay their own board before school starts. How can a university justify feeding 157 people (145 players plus 12 coaches) for three weeks of practice in August, when classes haven't even started? With breakfast at $5 a head and lunch and dinner at $7.50 each, that's about $3,000 a day, $21,000 a week—more than $60,000!

No school is going to cut back scholarships or fall practice on its own. You disarm unilaterally and you gel whupped. The NCAA Presidents Commission, the posse of pointy-heads that's supposedly trying to reform college sports, needs to announce to the member schools, "O.K., we're going to cut athletics costs by 25 percent. Now pass legislation that will get that done." The NCAA appointed a Task Force on Gender Equity last April, and specific proposals should be in the task force's report, which NCAA executive director Dick Schultz expects in time for the 1993 convention.

Just what we need, more NCAA rules and regulations.

Necessary evils. And do you want another reason why they're worth it? Many of the same blowhards who bitch about Title IX use their next breath to bemoan how few Olympic medals are won by American athletes. Yet women won nine of the 11 U.S. medals in Albertville, including all five of the golds, and the climate created by Title IX certainly contributed to that. And many of the sports in which American women won medals in Barcelona—swimming, track, basketball and volleyball, for starters—wouldn't be nearly as well developed if it weren't for college programs fostered by Title IX. Yet Title IX is hardly being enforced! In other words, Uncle Eb, incompetent judging and anabolic steroids aren't keeping Americans from winning more Olympic medals, troglodytes like you are.

Sounds to me like you're endorsing reverse discrimination. You're saying a female squash player deserves a scholarship more than a male football player.

At a certain point, yes, she does. Let's go back to the physics department. When Catatonic State gives out those Junius T. Higginbotham Scholarships in quantum mechanics each year, it picks the most distinguished kids it can find. No one else. Why treat athletes any differently from students? The best female squash player on campus is more distinguished than the 70th-best football player, yet at many schools there wouldn't be a team for her to play on. Right now football is buying bench warmers. Some guys are getting room, books, board and tuition to pick splinters out of their keisters once a week.

Wait a minute. You take all that money from football and pump it into starting all those girls' teams, and you've got to hire, what, a head coach and an assistant in seven or eight sports?

No, you don't. The key is to add women's sports that can serve the largest number of participants. Sports like soccer. Track. Swimming. Softball. Lacrosse. To comply with Title IX, a school might only have to add two or three women's sports.

And not cut any men's sports? Dream on.

No, I'll stay right here in reality and give you the numbers. Eliminate 15 football scholarships at $8,000 each. Get rid of two assistant football coaches at, oh. $45,000 each. Now add the cost saved in benefits for those coaches at 25 percent of their salaries. Factor in, at about $1,000 a head, the equipment, medical and insurance costs saved by reducing your football squad by 55, and that's nearly $300,000 in found money—with which you could start enough women's teams to comply.

Comply, shomply. One fine hue and cry will go up at that idea.

I'm sure. But we've already seen the most garish hues and heard the most bloodcurdling cries, and still the sun comes up each morning. In 1975 the NCAA reacted to Title IX by supporting federal legislation called the Tower Amendment, which would have exempted revenue-producing sports—that is, football and men's basketball—from the law's purview. After the Tower Amendment failed to pass the House, the NCAA filed suit in 1978 against the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to again try to take football and basketball out of the equation. And NCAA executive director Walter Byers uttered his famous remark that because of Title IX, "impending doom is around the corner." Now Schultz, to his credit, is calling gender equity "a moral issue."

Can't you see that the challenge of complying with Title IX offers big-time college sports their best chance to scale back to reality? Athletic-department ledgers are soaked in red ink. The NCAA's billion-dollar basketball deal with CBS comes up for renewal in 1997, and given the current advertising climate, it'll be a miracle if the rights fee doesn't go down. After years of excess, college presidents finally appear determined to rein in their athletic departments. And Congress is in such disfavor that it'll do anything to enhance its image—and taming the leviathan of college sports scores points with voters across the spectrum.

Just wait. The feds are going to be on college sports like white on rice. Some congressmen, the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission arc already saying, "Fine, keep pouring resources into football and men's basketball. Go ahead and behave like pro sports franchises, and we'll treat you accordingly. We'll tax and regulate the bejesus out of you."

There's nothing Schultz dreads more than federal intervention. And the NCAA can help avoid it by making compliance with Title IX a condition for membership. The NCAA gives "death" sentences to schools that flout its rules; it could do the same to schools that disobey the law of the land. Comply or die. And if the NCAA won't act, the conferences should. Actually, your dear old Big Ten already has. It has adopted a plan that requires each member school to reach 40 percent women's participation in sports within five years. Of course, the proposal originally called for 50 percent female participation within 10 years, but that goal was dropped—probably because the Big Ten numbers 11 schools and doesn't trust itself to count to 10.

Snide, aren't we?

It's hard not to be, given how long the wait has been. Title IX was one of the Education Amendments of 1972. But the first federal regulations enforcing Title IX weren't promulgated until 1975, and schools were given until 1978 to comply. Then Title IX was emasculated by the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decision in Grove City College v. Bell in 1984 effectively ruled that the law's provisions didn't apply to athletics. After Grove City, scores of pending complaints or reviews were suspended, scaled back or dropped. Title IX wasn't effective again until Congress passed, over President Reagan's veto, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, which made it clear that Title IX applied to athletics. So the law has really been enforced for only half of its life. That's why the mood wasn't as grim as it might have been at the Title IX birthday parties in June.

Just what I suspected. The women's libbers are having a grand old time. Damn that Title IX.

Actually, Uncle Eb, you've got me thinking. As long as women athletes have higher graduation rates than both male athletes and student bodies as a whole, women's athletic programs ought to get more money than men's. But that would mean colleges were rewarding academic excellence, and lord knows we can't have that, can we, Uncle Eb?

Uncle Eb? Where are you going?

That diving's on the television, and Mildred just loves watching it.

So let her watch it. What, you don't think Aunt Millie can watch TV without male supervision?

No, believe it or not, I fancy that sport too. You know, your cousin Art's little girl, Becky, is getting rather good at it.

She is, huh?

Yessiree. My granddaughter's a fine child. I'm putting something away for Becky's college fund, you know.

No one ever called you a scrooge, Uncle Eb.

Now let me get this straight. They really have athletic scholarships for girls nowadays?