By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Approximately 150 protesters, including male and female college athletes and coaches whose schools cut their programs in an effort to comply with Title IX, rallied outside the Department of Education yesterday morning before their leaders met with Stephanie Monroe, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.
The protest, organized by the College Sports Council, a group advocating Title IX reform, was prompted by James Madison University’s decision in September to eliminate 10 varsity sports — seven men’s and three women’s — effective July 1, 2007. Also in attendance were students and coaches representing programs cut at six other colleges, including Maryland, Howard and William & Mary.
CSC alleges Title IX, the law that mandates gender equity in sports at all federally funded institutions, is a quota system. The council wants the law to be altered to reflect the increased participation of women in college sports compared with the level at Title IX’s enactment in 1972 and would like the scope of each school’s athletic programs to be determined by students.
“The main goal for the College Sports Council is a more athlete-centered voice in college sports,” CSC executive director Eric Pearson said. “There’s no better way to empower them than to survey them.”
While most schools have certain specialties in their curriculum, offering a greater variety of certain courses, Pearson said sports should not follow the same criteria.
“We call sports ‘extracurricular,’ ” Pearson said. “It’s outside of the curriculum that is determined by administrators. Sports are meant to a be complement to that experience.”
Title IX advocates shot back during a conference call yesterday afternoon, saying JMU’s decision to cut programs was not motivated by Title IX compliance.
“JMU clearly made a mistake dropping these sports,” said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, “and it made an egregious mistake blaming it on Title IX. It sure wasn’t because of Title IX that they’re dropping three women’s teams. That’s for sure.”
Next year, JMU will offer 12 women’s sports and six men’s. School officials said the cuts will save the athletic department about 2.6 percent of its nearly $21 million annual budget. Citing the school’s year-old $10 million Plecker Athletic Center, Donna Lopiano, chief executive of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said JMU had the resources to fund additional opportunities that would have put the school in compliance with Title IX.
“There’s something to be said . . . that equal opportunities are provided,” Greenberger said. “But that means expanding opportunities. [JMU] took the opposite approach of ignoring the interest of the students. . . . We’re all on the side of putting these teams back in place.”
Allison Truglio, a JMU sophomore gymnast, whose team was among the recently eliminated, did not join her teammates in protest.
“I do think that Title IX has nothing to do with this decision,” Truglio said. “It is possible my peers are directing their energy in the wrong direction. It’s sad that JMU felt obligated to take these opportunities away from us.”