In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was made law. It requires that "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” giving equal opportunity to women in school activities for the first time. But while Title IX opened doors for women in all arenas of the educational system, it was taken most literally when applied to athletics programs. Requiring that schools have an equal number of male and female players, whatever the proportion of interest, forced some schools to cut back on male athletics programs, like at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., which is being added to a suit against the U.S. Department of Education by Equity in Athletics Inc., after the university announced it will permanently cut 10 men's teams to comply with anti-sex-discrimination laws. NEWSWEEK’s Alexandra Gekas spoke with Jessica Gavora, vice president for policy of The College Sports Council and author of “Tilting the Playing Field” about the arguments against Title IX.
NEWSWEEK: You have spoken out critically against Title IX. I assume you are not against women being able to play sports, so what is it that you are opposed to?
Jessica Gavora: I am not against Title IX, I am only against what it has become through its implementation. The law has been hijacked and has put government into the role of coercing schools to make it look like men and women are participating in athletics at the same rate. Doing a proportionality test forces schools to manipulate their rosters to make the gender ratios match that of the student body. And this is hard for lots of schools to do. Men and women don’t turn out to play sports at the same rate. They don’t show the same interest in sports, not to mention that these colleges and universities are increasingly female so schools end up having to make that gender ratio match. They end up cutting their men’s teams and limiting the size of the teams that do exist to make it look like men and women are equally participating in sports.
Do you advocate getting rid of Title IX?
I do think we still need title IX. I think that everybody in our educational institutions deserves protection against sex discrimination. I think that’s an important part of equality in this country. But we need to change the way we are judging schools. They need to be able to offer sports on the basis of student interest. That’s why we applauded the student interest survey, [which surveyed the student body based on interest in athletics, allowing for representative sports teams] because right now we have this very arbitrary numerical formula that we are applying and it’s hurting athletes. Not just male athletes, but female athletes on small roster squads. Women who play smaller roster sports don’t get the same opportunity.
What do you think needs to be changed in Title IX to make it work better?
This is the real sticking point right now; it’s the only area that needs improvement. Title IX speaks to lots of things, equal facilities, practice times and all these other comparisons for complying with the law that are perfectly fine. It’s this participation question. How do we decide what’s fair when we’re segregating our athletics by sex? This is the only controversial question with Title IX as far as I’m concerned and it needs to be settled with an interest survey. Women today are aware of their options, they’re very athletic; they know what they want to do. They should be able to say what they want to do. We don’t apply this same test, [which requires the gender ratio of athletics to match the gender ratio of the student body] to any other area of education. We don’t apply it to engineering, and I would probably say it’s more important that we have more female engineers than female equestrians.
What do the people on the other side of the issue argue?
The people on the other side of this believe that it isn’t the role of the university to accommodate the interests of women; they believe it’s the role of the university to create interest. They believe it is the role of the university to educate women on how athletic they are.
What do female athletes say?
I know that I’ve heard from lots of female athletes who are starting to say that this law has outlived its purpose. They don’t understand what this law means because they’re seeing it limit the opportunities of the men they travel and train with and who make them better athletes. And they think it’s insane. There’s a big generational divide here. Some of the women who are of the “if you build it they will com”’ mentality are older women and they lived at a time and went to college at a time when women were being given the short end of the stick in a major way. But these women today have had a very different experience and they don’t agree with what this law is doing to their male colleagues.
Is it a financial issue? Are schools trying to allocate funding and cutting teams because they can’t afford them all?
It is not a financial issue. The formula for compliance, the proportionality does not say that schools have to spend an equal amount of money on the boys and the girls. It’s a body count quota. It says 55 percent of your athletes have to be women if 55 percent of your student body is women. So we see schools practice what they call “roster management,” which means they limit the size of the men’s team. They turn away male walk-ons who don’t cost them money, who don’t travel with them and who just want to play. They turn them away because of the body count quota. Time after time we see schools eliminate a team and alumni come forward and say they will pay for the team and the school will say no because they can’t have the male bodies on their rosters.
What about the big-money sports, like college football teams, that have 80 players when they only really need 30. Do you think they are taking up spaces for smaller men’s sports?
Some people like to say it’s all football, because schools are spending all their money on football teams, but that’s not what this is about. Those football players aren’t taking any opportunities away from females. The money they spend on football is not the reason they can only have 15 guys on their baseball team, when if they took their walk-ons they could have 50. Women don’t come out and play for the team without scholarships the way men do. Women have a lot more things they want to do. Look at the gender balance for every extracurricular activity and they’re all dominated by women, except sports. Women have more diverse interests; men are more maniacally interested in sports. Some people say that’s gender heresy but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
This mostly applies to college sports, but how is it relevant to high schools?
This proportionality has so far been pretty much confined to colleges and universities and it would really be a tragedy if it were applied to high schools. Like I said, look at who’s doing what extracurricular activity in high schools and then tell me we need to force equality of participation in sports. You’re going to hurt a lot of boys because a lot of girls are busy after school doing other things, so I think it would be terrible if we expanded this to high schools.