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Winning At Political Football

The legislation's staying power is the direct result of an attempt to dismantle it

In May 1974 a couple of powerful Texans who feared Title IX's impact on revenue-producing sports—Republican senator John Tower and Texas football coach and athletic director Darrell Royal, soon-to-be president of the American Football Coaches Association—planned an assault on the two-year-old law. Royal and Longhorns NCAA faculty representative J. Neils Thompson helped draft the Tower Amendment, which would exempt football and men's basketball from Title IX compliance determinations. Royal feared the law would "eliminate, kill or seriously weaken the programs we have in existence." Its mandates, Tower said, would throw "the baby"—costly but profitable football—"out with the bathwater." For good measure, NCAA executive director Walter Byers added a formulation as alarmist as it was redundant: "Impending doom is around the corner."

Although Royal received an audience with President (and former Michigan lineman) Gerald Ford, sports held little interest for Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who believed the football lobby to be overreacting. Senator Birch Bayh (D., Ind.) and other friends of Title IX defeated the Tower Amendment and instead helped pass a rider offered by Senator Jacob Javits (R., N.Y.), which directed HEW to issue regulations that made "reasonable provisions considering the nature of particular sports."

Often it can take a decade or more, and a welter of court cases, before the Feds promulgate regulations that settle the interpretation of a complex new law. But in June 1975, HEW published an exhaustive list of guidelines that covered everything from admissions to housing to how complaints should be filed.

Every few years afterward, some party mounted a challenge to Title IX. And every few years that party was turned away. Every appellate court that's heard a Title IX case has upheld it; the one time the Supreme Court rolled it back, in 1984's Grove City College v. Bell, Congress soon mooted the decision by passing the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988.

What accounts for Title IX's invincibility? Gender-equity advocate Donna Lopiano, who had testified against exempting revenue sports while serving as the Longhorns' women's athletic director, credits those federal regulations, now enforced by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. It's no small irony that Texas hombres hoping to torpedo legislation unwittingly helped bulletproof it. "I've been an expert witness in 30 lawsuits and rarely had to offer a debatable opinion," Lopiano says. "I'd depend on my knowledge of the OCR regulations and the courts' inclination to defer to agency regs if they exist. By an accident of history, the Bible was written when Christ was born."

Over their 17 years together in Austin, Lopiano came to count Royal as a supporter of women's sports even if he didn't want his football program to pay for them. Nonetheless, when Lady Longhorns came to her with complaints, Lopiano would give them a copy of the regulations and the business card of a local lawyer. The implication was clear: Sue their school—her employer—on Title IX grounds.




BATTLE ROYAL The Texas football coach worried that Title IX would kill revenue sports.