Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Title IX and Fairness

First off, let me preface the comments to come by asserting that Title IX has been a marvelous boon for women's college sports. It is hard to believe that three decades ago women had few opportunities on the playing fields -- varsity sports were limited, the quality of facilities and equipment laughable, and the perceptions of women athletes shameful. Colleges and universities actively discriminated against women who wanted to play. As a direct result of Title IX millions of little girls have been able to dream of growing up to be Lisa Leslie or Mia Hamm or Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

But Title IX has had many deleterious effects as well, for in the process of doing the right thing -- opening up access to women -- those in charge of the enforcement of Title IX have done the wrong thing -- namely to make access to college sports a zero-sum game in which for women to benefit, men must lose. John Tierney has an insightful column on Title IX hidden behind the New York Times' monumentally stupid firewall. Here is a taste:

Suppose you’re the head of a school whose students belong to two ethnic groups, the Alphas and the Betas. The Alphas get better grades and are more likely to graduate. They dominate the school newspaper and yearbook, the band and the choir, the debate team and the drama club — virtually all extracurricular activities except for sports.

How much time would you spend worrying about the shortage of Alpha jocks?

Not much — unless, of course, the Alphas were women, the Betas were men, and you were being sued for not complying with Title IX. Then you would be desperately trying to end this outrageous discrimination.

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?

Yes, some women are dedicated athletes, and they should be encouraged with every opportunity. But a lot of others have better things to do, like study or work on other extracurricular activities that will be more useful to their careers. For decades, athletic directors have been creating women’s sports teams and dangling scholarships and hoping to match the men’s numbers, but they’ve learned that not even the Department of Education can eradicate gender differences.

At the University of Maryland, the women’s lacrosse team won national championships year after year but still had a hard time getting 40 players to turn out for the team. The men’s team had no such trouble, because guys were more than willing to warm the bench even if they weren’t getting a scholarship, but the coach had to cut the extra ones to maintain the gender balance. The school satisfied Title IX, but to no one’s benefit.

On or off campus, men play more team sports and watch more team sports. Besides enjoying the testosterone rushes, they have a better chance of glory — and of impressing the opposite sex. Thirty-four years after Title IX, most women’s games still attract sparse audiences. Both sexes would still rather watch men play games, especially football.

It is not sexist, it is not retrograde, it is not misogynistic, and it is not wrong to state a series of simple facts: Men on average like sports more than women; men are more passionate on the whole about sports than women; men play sports more and more intensely than women. The purpose of Title IX was to create opportunity for women athletes, and it has done so. However it has also inadvertantly but undeniably served to limit opportunities for men at all levels of college sports. It is time to reconsider the proportionality approach to college athletics and to both acknowledge that men are more interested in sports and that women are no longer limited in their opportunities on college campuses. Title IX was about fairness. Fairness has been achieved and in the process it has created a new level of unfairness for young men who just want to play. As Tierney concludes:
I’m not suggesting that sports are a panacea for male education problems. Men are lagging behind women on campus for lots of reasons: less motivation and self-control, poorer academic skills. No matter what happens with Title IX, women will deservedly continue to outnumber men on campus and dominate the honor rolls.

But because they’re now so dominant, they don’t need special federal protection in the one area that men excel. This playing field doesn’t need to be leveled.

Title IX has worked. In some form it must be maintained. But not in its current form, and not with its current shortsighted manifestations.


Thunderstick said...

There was an interesting editorial written in SI probably 10 years ago now where someone said that the number of men's and women's scholarships should be based on interest level because there was something like a 4:1 ratio of men:women that were trying to get college athletic scholarships. The author made the point that college scholarships in dance programs aren't given out in a 50:50 ratio to men and women because there are substantially more women that want them than men and that at some point some dude that can't go to college because he can't get a dance scholarship should sue to say that those scholarships should also be 50:50 since that's the ratio of men:women in the student body.

Of course, that dude would forever be known as the guy that sued to get a dance scholarship. I nominate dcat himself. His ballet is substandard, but passable and his tap and modern are magnificent.

Anonymous said...

Dcat is an amazing dancer.

I remember the days where he would "cut the rug" here in Mankato. "Twinkle-toes Catsam" is what we called him.

Thunderstick said...

I've seen DCat dance and I assure you the only thing he cuts is the cheese which he does very admirably. In fact, I think we all noticed that the air quality in the US was downgraded a notch upon his return to the States yesterday.

dcat said...

Oh, you guys! Stop!

I am considering forsaking history and applying to phD programs in interpretive dance largely based on your encouragement here. I thank you for the faith you have in me and I promise to reward it.


Anonymous said...

Blue Bricks and Grizzly's still miss you TTD.

dcat said...

It's nice to be missed.

Anonymous said...

Check out this website called Women of Action. It's all about girls kicking ass throughout world history. Very inspiring...

dcat said...

very cool, and no one denies that there have always been women capable of kicking ass in world history. But no one would deny that if our standard is asskicking, for better or for worse, that domain has been dominated by and more interest has been shown by men.

I like a lot of women's sports. And it is clear from my post that the way things were was unacceptable. But the way things were is not the way things are, and guys are being denied athletic opportuinity solely because of a misguided belief that the outcomes have to be equal with regard to Title IX. Women simply do not have the same interest in sports as men. Period.