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OPINION COLUMNS: College sports is broken, not Title IX

By: Evan Weiner

Is the Bush Administration waging war against women’s rights? That answer may come this spring after Secretary of Education Rod Paige finishes his review of Title IX legislation that bans sex discrimination in colleges, whether it is in college admissions, getting a teaching job or on the college sports playing field.

The Secretary of Education’s Committee on Opportunities in Athletics has been meeting for the past year and will make its recommendations to Secretary Paige on February 28. There is some nervousness among women’s groups including The Women’s Sports Foundation and the Coalition for Women and Girls in Education that the Bush Administration may change some of the rules that were signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.

The Bush Administration has not tipped its hand on what it might do, but given the President’s views on abortion and that the White House has joined in as a friend of the court in the University of Michigan affirmative action case that will be heard by the Supreme Court, there is some justification for the anxiety.

The White House filed a brief with the court claiming that the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes numerical targets for incoming minority students, are unconstitutional.

The Title IX law didn’t establish numerical targets for minorities; instead it guaranteed rights. The law states: “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”

Title IX has changed how college sports are played in the country. Prior to 1972, U.S. General Accounting Office released a figure showing that 32,000 women had participated in college sports and that figure grew to 163,000 by 1999.

Men no longer get 95 percent of the dollars earmarked for sports and that is causing friction in the men’s teams coaching fraternity. A good number of those coaches think Title IX has taken away their ability to get the best athletes for their teams because they can’t spend scholarship money solely for men’s teams.

Men’s sports programs have been eliminated at schools. But, oddly enough, Title IX was never meant to level out the college sports playing field and give women sports opportunities. Title IX’s original intent was to give women a fair chance at being accepted in a school and for women professors to get equal opportunity at advancing within the system. Title IX has worked. By 1994, women received 38 percent of medical degrees earned in the US, compared with 9 percent in 1972; 43 percent of law degrees, compared with 7 percent in 1972 and 44 percent of all doctoral degrees, up from 25 percent in 1977.

Title IX is too tied into sports. And that brings a more significant question that needs to be answered. Should colleges and universities be in the big-time sports business? College sports has become a $5 billion a year industry and schools are paying as much as $2 million a year for football coaches. Title IX opponents say that men’s sports, particularly football and basketball, are funding entire school sports programs and that it is unfair for men to lose out on scholarship opportunities because men’s sports generate dollars for the schools.

The Title IX argument comes down to money and who should get it for sports.

Are men more deserving of the money because they take part in traditional sporting events or are women equal partners? The answer should be that women are equals.

But the Bush Administration may change the Title IX law sometime this year because of pressure from men’s team coaches wanting more money for their teams and that’s wrong.

Title IX has created diversity in society and is not just a piece of sports legislation. No matter what the jocks say.

And do you know what else is wrong? Colleges and universities should not be farm systems for the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. They should be institutions of higher education first and foremost.

Big time college sports are broken, not Title IX.

Evan Weiner is a radio commentator on “The Business of Sports” for Westwood One’s Metro Networks.

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