The fairness factor
Title IX meant more opportunity for female athletes. But should male athletes have to pay?
But proportionality isn't the way to do that, argue the National Wrestling Coaches Association and three wrestling programs that in January sued the Department of Education. They say the agency has wrongly interpreted the law by requiring schools to eliminate men's teams, scholarships, and participation. "We embrace Title IX; it's a very good law," says Mike Moyer, executive director of the wrestling coaches' group, based in Manheim, Pa. "It's poorly interpreted. It was never intended to be a quota program. It's now about too many male athletes being in an athletic department."
There's little doubt that some male athletes are being hurt. Marquette University in Milwaukee eliminated its wrestling program last year, even though the nonprofit Marquette Wrestling Club, one of the plaintiffs suing the Department of Education, funded most of the program through donations. "I've been wrestling since I was 5 years old," says Nathan Challis, a Marquette University senior who was on the wrestling team. "It was a part of my life. It was an extremely tough decision to stay here and not transfer; it was like leaving a part of my life behind."
Trapped. Even revenue-producing teams are being eliminated, which leads some to charge that athletic departments care more about head counts than winning teams. Ron "Sticks" Ballatore, who produced Olympians and NCAA champions as coach for 16 years of the UCLA men's swimming team, says he could have raised enough funds to keep the program but wasn't given a chance. Instead, UCLA cut men's swimming in 1994. "You don't have to drop programs," says Ballatore, who went on to coach at Brown University and the University of Florida, where he now runs the basketball complex. "But it's the easier way for the schools. Then, you're done with it, you don't have to worry about men's sports anymore; you can just add women's sports and make it work."
Athletic administrators feel trapped in the middle. Betsy Stephenson, an associate athletic director at UCLA, first arrived there in 1996, just a couple of seasons after the men's gymnastics and swimming programs were cut. She was charged with overseeing "roster management," in essence seeing how much the school could increase women's participation while carefully controlling the roster size of the men's teams. But that was a flop. "We were getting exhausted coaches of women's programs, because they were running two practices a day to accommodate these women," she says. "We couldn't do it, our coaches couldn't do it, and it wasn't a quality experience."
Some schools are trying to show good faith by paying closer attention to other prongs of Title IX: consistently expanding women's athletics and illustrating that a school "fully and effectively" meets the interest of women in a sport. But these are subjective criteria. Some believe that surveying students more closely for what they want is the answer. "Feminist groups say if you don't build it, they won't come. I think that's misguided," says Christine Stolba, a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum, who in 2001 coauthored The Feminist Dilemma: When Success Is Not Enough. "It's equal opportunity for men and women. Once you embrace statistical proportionality in athletics, what's going to stop you from embracing it in chemistry class, dance class? Then where will we be? I think survey data is key. Find out what they want before you build it."