Today is National Girls and Women in Sport Day. The coordinators of today’s events, the Women’s Sports Foundation, will regale Capitol Hill and the Capital City with glowing reports of women’s achievements in sports. Then, they will launch into how none of this could have happened without Title IX, the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in educational programs. We will also hear how far women have yet to go, and how the “sacred” Title IX cannot be amended, updated or otherwise tampered with.

Despite the necessity of its passage, and the consequent gains for women and girls in education, Title IX is not all the Women’s Sports Foundation says it is cracked up to be. There is a dark story behind Title IX of gender quotas and sex discrimination created and supported by the federal government.

The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education is responsible for enforcing Title IX in school athletics programs. Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, has developed a close working relationship with this office. During the Clinton administration, the OCR has “clarified” Title IX as a law intended to promote girls and women in sports. Therefore, schools can only demonstrate compliance with the law by producing male and female athletes in direct proportion to their presence on campus. The OCR head, Norma Cantu, waxes poetic about other compliance measures, but the one favored by her office is this gender quota.

But OCR has gone a step further by saying that Title IX also allows schools to practice sex discrimination, as long as it is against males. The OCR policy states that schools can drop or cap the rosters of men’s teams to meet their gender quota. The Women’s Sports Foundation supports this interpretation, even though such moves produce no net gain for female athletes. In fact, reducing male participation to the level of female interest stagnates the growth of women’s sports.

What fails to attract much notice from either Cantu or Lopiano is the substance of the law itself. Title IX states three things: there shall be no discrimination based on sex, this is not a quota bill, and this bill cannot be used to demand reparations against the over-represented sex (males) for past discrimination against the under-represented sex (females). Cantu, Lopiano and their feminist allies don’t think there is anything inherently wrong about making today’s twenty-year old males pay for the discrimination faced by their mothers.

Since Cantu took her post, more than 350 male collegiate athletic teams have disappeared. Countless more have been capped, limiting their competitive opportunities and prohibiting walk-on participants. Donna Lopiano’s organization blames football for the carnage. According to the WSF, the budgets and sizes of football teams should be reduced to provide more funds for gender equity. The WSF further suggests that schools in the highest competitive divisions consider moving to a lower competitive division, thereby reducing scholarship and other expenses. However, Lopiano’s position does not address the negative impact on women’s sports at a school that chooses to move downward on the competitiveness scale, i.e., less interest in playing, less money to support teams, and less prestige for the competitors.

There is a twofold problem with blaming football. First, the decimation of men’s teams is taking place on campuses without football teams. Last year, Providence College announced the elimination of men?s baseball, tennis and golf. The campus had a 57% female undergraduate population and no new money to add more women’s teams to meet the quota. So, bye-bye to the boys with the blessings of the OCR.

The second problem with blaming football is that schools with the most expensive and successful football programs also have the most successful and cash-lush women’s programs. The December 1999 issue of Social Science Quarterly contains an article by Patrick Rishe of Webster University correlating success in football with increased spending for women on those campuses. The increased spending makes those women’s teams more competitive, although it is harder for the university to meet the gender quota.

Thinking toward the future, proponents for increased opportunities for women would do better to focus their efforts on the quality of the organized athletic experience rather than on the male-to-female ratio of athletes. Women comprise close to 57% of all college students nationwide and it is unrealistic to assume that all women come to campus with the same level of interest in athletics as each other, much less at the same level as men. Forcing schools to meet a gender quota assumes that they do and practical application has never confirmed that assumption.

Women’s sports proponents should instead focus on the marketplace influences of sport by working to build competitive leagues and a constituency to support them. No federal law can accomplish that, and how many more boys and men need to suffer while we wait for that failure to be realized? Feel free to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sport Day, but be careful about buying into the notion that a government regulation will be a blessing to girls, even as it continues to curse boys.

Kimberly Schuld is Manager of the Play Fair project for the Independent Women’s Forum.