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October 17 2011

High Schools Don’t Need Athletic Quotas

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Carrie L. Lukas

The new school year presents a unique challenge for administrators, who in this budget-crisis era, are having to get creative about how to do more with less.  Those struggling today to make the numbers add up be warned:  There's another line item you may have to add to your budget.  Legal fees to fend off lawsuits related to Title IX. 

Title IX began with a laudable goal:  ensure that all students, regardless of their sex, have equal excess to educational opportunities, include athletic participation.  But enforcement of Title IX has been a problem.  Instead of rooting out true discrimination, the Department of Education's enforcement regime has left colleges with only one legal “safe harbor,” which guarantees schools won't face lawsuits:  The gender breakdown of the school's athletes has to match the gender breakdown of the entire student body.  Since at many colleges women now account for six in ten undergrads, this is an increasingly difficult standard to meet.  

Title IX supporters may hope that colleges will add teams so that the number of female student-athletes keeps pace with their share of the student population.  But when that's not in the budget—or when colleges simply can't attract enough female athletes to join new teams, as has been the case in the past—colleges embrace the far easier route of eliminating men's teams.  In fact, research shows that hundreds of men's programs have been eliminated in pursuit of Title IX's compliance.  

This is terrible news, and not just for male athletes.  All of society should be troubled by men's anemic educational attainment, which will hinder their future career and earning potential.  Participation in extracurricular activities enhances engagement in school and improves educational outcomes. And for men, sports are their primary extracurricular activity.  

In fact, research confirms that women outnumber men in essentially all other programs: in academic clubs, theater and music groups, campus newspapers, student governments, and the list could go on.  Sports is the one area that men have continued to outnumber women.  Not coincidentally, it is the one area being subject to a de-facto quota regime.

If this is problematic at the college-level, it is alarming at the high school level.  Extracurricular activities help keep boys engaged in school and increase the probability they will graduate.  Obtaining a high school diploma is a critical step on the road to a successful, independent life.  Men without high school degrees earn less income, are more likely to father children out of wedlock, abuse drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, and go to prison.  Keeping boys engaged in high school should be an urgent priority.  

Yet, in recent months, quota activists have been intimidating high school districts with charges that they are in violation of Title IX simply on the basis of the gender balance in their athletic departments. Nationwide, there are currently 1.3 million more boys participating in high school sports than girls. Using a gender quota to enforce Title IX in high school sports would put those boys athletes at risk of losing their opportunity to play, which could damage their overall school performance.

School administrators know this.  They don't want to cut boys' teams.  They know that girls have opportunities to play sports and dominate other extracurricular activities.  They want their male students to succeed, have self-confidence, and stay in schools.  Yet these same school leaders do not want to fight lawsuits that will drain their budgets and hurt their schools' reputations.  

The good news is that the Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of the American Sports Council, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the use of gender quotas in high school athletics violates the equal protection clause and is unconstitutional.  A ruling against quota regimes will provided needed relief to high schools everywhere, and to the male athletes who may otherwise be casualties of Title IX's ill-conceived enforcement regime. 

It's common sense that we want both boys and girls to have the opportunity to play sports, and participate in myriad other extracurriculars offered by schools.  However no one—or at least no one outside of radical gender studies departments—expects exactly the same number of girls and boys to sign up for sports—or for pottery, or yearbook, or dance class.  The real focus should be on equality of opportunities, not equal outcomes.  

It's time this common sense perspective was applied to Title IX. 

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

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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