Title Icks

The Bush Administration targets Title IX.

In the near future, the Bush Administration's Commission on Athletic Opportunity will meet in Washington, D.C., to announce what, if any, changes should be made in Title IX, the 30-year-old law that prohibits sex discrimination at schools receiving federal aid. As with many policies emanating from this wildly popular yet often oddly un-American regime, this commission's findings are almost certain to be wrong-headed and short sighted.

Title IX, which has done more to effect positive changes in the American social landscape than any legislation since the ratification of Constitutional Amendments 13-15, has been a spectacular success. It has helped change the way America's girls look at and think about themselves. It has opened the doors to college for hundreds of thousands of women who might otherwise not have been able to go. Even at the UA, of the three big J's who dominated the athletic scene in 2002, both basketball's Jason Gardner and football's Jason Johnson were both overshadowed in popularity and athletic accomplishment by Jennie Finch.

Unfortunately, Title IX has also threatened the tenuous manhood of some of America's not-yet-grown-up boys and therein lies the proposed seed of its destruction. Girls playing ball and getting college scholarships?! What are they going to want next, the right to vote?

One of the flaws (and, at the same time, one of the great strengths) of the American way of governing is that sometimes laws have a short shelf life. But we also have a way of making legislative and judicial corrections and righting old wrongs. That having been said, Title IX, despite its critics (who generally fall into the category of either sports-talk lunkhead or mistreated male minor-sport whiner), isn't broken and therefore doesn't need fixing.

It's not really clear why George W. Bush has such a hatred for Title IX. He doesn't appear to ever have been particularly athletic himself and the schools that his Daddy bought his way into don't even give athletic scholarships. Bush has been attacking Title IX for quite some time. (Although he probably initially referred to it as "Title icks.") He even blasted it while he was campaigning for president, perhaps to draw attention away from the fact that he didn't know the capital of Pakistan.

Alas, his brother gave him the presidency and Osama bin-Laden gave him a certain stature that he probably wouldn't have earned on his own, and so now his crackpot notions have taken on a sort of goofy earnestness. Nevertheless, it is quite telling. If the Trent Lott fiasco exposed the racist underpinnings of the New GOP, this fight to gut Title IX is showing us its sexist side.

However, George W. Bush is not alone in this attempt to take a sledgehammer to the Pietà. There are a lot of people out there moaning and gnashing their teeth over what they perceive as slight to some men in favor of less-deserving women. This has led to a litany of specious charges, some of which have found their way into the mainstream media. A couple months back, 60 Minutes had a segment in which it was charged that America won't be able to compete on the world stage in men's gymnastics or wrestling because Title IX has caused colleges to eliminate those sports so that they can start women's sports teams in an effort to comply with the law.

This is where the shallow thinking that Americans are becoming increasingly known for comes into play. Some men's college sports programs have been eliminated over the past quarter-century and some women's programs have been added. But to apply a strict cause-and-effect relationship between the two is simplistic and dangerous.

At most universities in America, only football and men's basketball show a financial profit. There are a few exceptions. At the UA, women's softball breaks even or even shows a small profit. At some colleges across the country, women's basketball is becoming a moneymaker. But, for the most part, everything other than the Big Two is a financial drain on the athletic department. Programs don't get cut just so than women can punish men; they get cut to help balance the books.

There are other ways that this can be done, but many would consider it sacrilege. How about cutting back on football? Now, football was my favorite sport to play in high school and college, and it remains one of my favorite sports to watch. I also realize that it is the cash cow for most colleges, but do they really need 85 scholarships for a sport in which 11 people play at a time?

Cutting 20 scholarships from football would fund an entire other sport. It would also leave enough scholarship athletes to fill three entire strings of both offense and defense. There would also be dozens of athletes willing to walk on in an attempt to earn playing time, as well as athletes who could (gasp!) play both ways. Alas, football is seen as sacred and untouchable, so the Title IX debate rages on.

The aforementioned commission is loaded with college athletic directors, which might bring some people to assume that it will have a progressive bent, since these folks have seen first-hand how well Title IX works. Sadly, this is not the case. The ADs are tired of having to comply with the law and they're even more tired of listening to the good ol' boys who comprise the bulk of the booster clubs and alumni associations rave on about football and complain about everything else. The ADs are likely to take the way out that is easy on themselves and politically expedient at the same time.

The power of these boosters cannot be overstated and it will probably be another generation or more in the future before women get any real power or numerical significance in these influential alumni organizations. Of course, if the Bush people succeed in taking an ax to Title IX, it could be a lot longer than that.

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