Title IX's Dark Legacy

Title IX has benefited women's sports, but at the expense of men.

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Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women's Forum.

When the summer Olympics begin next month, commentators will point to young girls eagerly watching female track stars, soccer players, gymnasts and swimmers, and celebrate how Title IX, a law passed 40 years ago, has helped so many girls and young women have the chance to play sports.

That's an important part of Title IX's legacy.

Yet there's another side to the story. It's one that could be told by male gymnasts, swimmers, and track stars: And that's how men's sports teams have been sacrificed in order to achieve "proportionality" as demanded by those enforcing Title IX. Mothers concerned about their sons' diminishing prospects might rightly bow out of Title IX's anniversary celebrations, and ask why the focus continues to be solely on bolstering female participation on college campuses, even as young men fall further behind.

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To better understand the problems caused by Title IX enforcement, one should talk to Andrew Valmon, the Olympic gold medal winner who will coach the men's U.S. track and field team in London. When he returns in the fall, he is likely to be without a team to call his own. That is because the University of Maryland's prestigious track and field program is not expected to resume for the 2012-2013 school year.

Budget pressures have driven the school to eliminate eight varsity teams, but Title IX's role in those cuts is also clear. Coach Valmon is trying to raise money from alumni to save his team, but his task is more difficult because he also must come up with enough to cover the costs of the tumbling (or competitive cheerleading) team. The university won't consider resurrecting the male track team without also bringing back tumbling, since otherwise it would run afoul of Title IX.

The men's Olympic gymnastics team likely sympathizes with Coach Valmon. Back in 1980, there were nearly 80 men's NCAA gymnastic teams. Today, fewer than 20 programs remain.

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In fact, in 2007, the College Sports Council (now the American Sports Council) conducted a comprehensive analysis of NCAA data over 25 years (1981-2005), which revealed that, after controlling for the growth in the number of NCAA schools, the number of female athletes per school increased by 34 percent and the number of women's teams also increased by 34 percent. During the same time period, male athletes per school fell by 6 percent and men's teams by 17 percent.

The problem with Title IX isn't the law itself, which simply outlaws discrimination based on sex in academia, but how it's enforced. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights created three paths to demonstrate compliance with Title IX, but only one inoculates a college from potentially costly lawsuits: showing that athletic participation for each gender is "substantially proportionate" to their respective enrollments.

Making the numbers add up has become a real challenge since women increasingly outnumber men on campus, earning an estimated 57 percent of bachelor's degrees. Colleges pursuing "proportionality" can try to increase the number of female athletes so that women account for 57 percent of athletes, or—the more surefire and less costly path—eliminate male athletes from the roster.

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Forty years ago, the lawmakers advancing Title IX meant to open doors for women, not close them for men. Yet current enforcement policies are increasingly outdated and even anti male. How else can one explain why Title IX's enforcement remains focused solely on athletics, the one extracurricular activity in which men's participation outpaces women, instead of the many other activities—from theater to student newspapers to academic clubs—that women dominate? How else can one justify that discussions about expanding Title IX into academic disciplines exclusively target the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--again, those few disciplines in which men's enrollment exceeds women's?