By Tim Lemke

About 100 student-athletes rallied in front of the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education yesterday to demand reforms to Title IX, the oft-debated law that calls for gender-equity in college sports.

The students, many of them men who are members of sports teams recently eliminated by James Madison University, argued Title IX has forced the elimination of many sports teams across the country, and said a relaxing of rules will allow more students to play.

James Madison recently announced it will eliminate 10 sports — including seven men’s teams — to comply with Title IX, which requires the balance of male and female athletes at a university reflect the student body. Students said yesterday that while Title IX was created to allow greater female participation in sports, the 1972 law is no longer necessary as more females are interested in sports and female enrollment outpaces male enrollment.

“Legislation should reflect the times, and Title IX no longer does,” said Mitch Dalton, captain of the James Madison men’s swimming team, which will be eliminated by the college after this year.

Dalton and his teammates were flanked by members of several other eliminated teams and the women’s track and cross country team, which was not eliminated. Students said that non-revenue producing sports, like track and field and archery, were too often victims of Title IX rules.

“We’re sending a message to our nation’s youth, and that is that if you’re not playing a sport that you can play professionally, then you should not play those sports in college,” said Jennifer Chapman, captain of the women’s cross country team.

Following a series of speeches, the track and field teams ran laps around the Department of Education building near L’Enfant Plaza, and the men’s swim team went jogging in their competition swimsuits.

Several students also met with Stephanie Monroe, assistant secretary in the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, who oversees Title IX enforcement. Eric Pearson, president of the College Sports Council, a non-profit group that organized the rally and has campaigned for changes to Title IX, and Jessica Gavora, an author of a book on law, also attended.

“I hope, if anything, we made them aware that something needed to be done,” Pearson said. “They were very receptive. They seemed to be appreciative of hearing from the students directly.”

The DOE declined to comment directly on the meeting, but a spokesman said it is department practice to offer technical assistance to schools that need help complying with Title IX.

“The department’s Office of Civil Rights is always concerned when schools choose to eliminate or reduce opportunities for [their] students and has strongly discouraged such actions as a means of complying with Title IX,” said DOE spokesman Chad Colby. “The elimination of teams diminishes opportunities for students who are interested in participating in athletics instead of enhancing opportunities for students who have suffered from discrimination. It is contrary to the spirit of Title IX.”

The recent elimination of sports teams at colleges has sparked a renewed debate over Title IX, with some people blaming the law for the elimination of sports teams and others pointing to the financial struggles of athletic departments.

In a speech before the National Press Club on Monday, NCAA president Myles Brand said many university athletic departments are cutting teams because of budget problems and have used Title IX an excuse for the cuts.

“Title IX mandates increased participation opportunities, not fewer,” Brand said. “It is true that institutions must make decisions about what it can afford and what it cannot, about how many sports it can sponsor, and about the level at which those sports will be supported. Those are the results of institutional priorities and financial circumstances, not the unintended consequences of Title IX.”

James Madison saved about $500,000 by cutting the ten teams, a relatively small percentage of the overall athletic spending at the college. The protesters yesterday touted this as a sign the cuts were not motivated by money. But Title IX defenders said the school didn’t need to make drastic cuts to be in line with the rules, and could have complied by adding more women’s teams instead.

“The cost of adding two or three women’s teams would have been just as minuscule,” said Marcia Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center. “I think it shows how little they value women’s teams.”

Furthermore, Greenberger and others said the growing number of athletic departments forming Division I football programs is placing pressure on schools to eliminate some men’s teams to keep in line with Title IX, since football requires more than 80 male players.