By Brigid Schulte

Since 1972, when Congress passed Title IX barring sex discrimination in school sports, the number of girls participating in sports in high school and college has skyrocketed. But as I reported a story this week about the National Women’s Law Center filing a complaint against D.C. Public Schools for failing to provide high school girls equal opportunity in sports, I came across a long-running debate about Title IX:

Are girls’ gains in sports coming at the expense of boys?

On one side of the debate is the American Sports Council, which has been leading the fight for years against Title IX, arguing that it disadvantages men and imposes unfair quotas, particularly at the college level.

They argue that by calling for strict proportionality – meaning that the share of male and female athletes on teams be roughly proportional to the share of males and females enrolled at a school – Title IX has forced cash-strapped schools to cut men’s sports programs rather than add women’s teams in order to comply with the law.

Allison Kasic and others with the Independent Women’s Forum have been issuing reportsmaking that case. A recent one looked at college sports:

“From 1981 to 2005, male athletes per school declined 6 percent, and men’s teams per school dropped 17 percent. Meanwhile, female athletes per school rose 34 percent, and women’s teams per school rose 34 percent. The total number of women’s teams has exceeded the number of men’s teams since 1995. Every male sport, with the exception of baseball, has decreased or remained static. Non-revenue sports such as wrestling, tennis, and gymnastics have been the hardest hit.”

But on the other side of the argument are sports and various womens groups that maintain just as adamantly that Title IX has helped women and girls by creating more opportunities,not by cutting men and boys’ sports.

They point to a 2007 General Accounting Office report that found that while women’s participation rates in college sports were increasing at a faster rate than men, the percentage of men playing sports still exceeded their share of enrollment, even as the numbers of women outstrip men on campus.

The National Women’s Sports Foundation has been tracking boys and girls’ participation in sports, using data reported by high schools and colleges.

They’ve found:

*The number of girls playing high school sports has boomed, from 295,000 in 1972 to 3.2 million in 2010-2011 school year.

*The number of high school boys participating in sports has increased, too, though not quite so impressively, from 3.6 million in 1972 to 4.5 million.

*Women in college athletics jumped from 74,000 in 1981 to 190,000, while men have climbed from 169,000 to 252,000 in the same period.

So where are the cuts?

The National Council for Women and Girls in Education, in their Title IX report, argue that, at the college level, the blame for any cuts to sports programs may be the fault of enormous spending on men’s football and basketball, not Title IX:

Instead of allocating resources among a variety of sports, many college administrators are choosing to take part in the basketball and football “arms race” at the expense of other athletic programs. In Division I-FBS (formerly Division I-A), for example, basketball and football consume 80% of total men’s athletic expenses. Average expenditures on football alone in this division ($12+ million) exceed average expenditures on all women’s sports ($8+ million).

They argue that while some men’s college sports teams have been dropped at NCAA schools, like wrestling and gymnastics, others have been added, like soccer, baseball and lacrosse, for a net gain of nearly 1,000 men’s teams between 1988 and 2010.

The Women’s Sports Foundation and others find that significant gender gaps remain:

*Girls make up 50 percent of high school enrollments, and have 41 percent of the spots on sports teams.

*Women in college have 60,000 fewer sports participation opportunites and received $176 million less in scholarships in 2010-2011.

*Women sports make up 8 percent of all television and print sports coverage, just ahead of horses, dogs and fishing.

But is that because women simply aren’t as interested in sports, as some argue, or because of cultural attitudes, the lack of a pipeline that starts early for girls or sex discrimination?

What do you think?