Miami — How did Title IX become the Wicked Witch of the West? Why has such a simple law been turned into a villainess?
Title IX, which mandates equal athletic and academic opportunities for men and women at the nation's educational institutions, is under attack 30 years after President Richard Nixon signed the catalyst for the boom in women's sports.
Without Title IX, there would be no Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, no Connecticut and Tennessee women's basketball, no Kerri Strug nor Marion Jones. Even Jennifer Capriati, clueless about the law, can thank Title IX for making sports as integral to young women's lives as they always have been to men's.
These athletes are members of the Title IX generation. Most of their mothers missed out on the sports revolution, but their daughters ought to grab the baton and keep running - unless Title IX is forced to take two steps backward.
The National Wrestling Coaches Assn. sued the Department of Education in January, claiming the law compels schools to add women's teams at the expense of men. The wrestlers say it is a "quota system" that amounts to reverse discrimination.
President Bush, who recognizes "quota" as a conservative buzz word, created a commission to study ways to change the law. The commission finished the heated "town meeting" phase this week and will submit recommendations by Jan. 31. The agenda is clear: The head of the Office of Civil Rights is opposed to affirmative action; a chief aide in the Attorney General's office wrote a book assailing Title IX; House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is a former wrestling coach who has led the charge. The question is how badly Title IX will be wounded.
The wrestling lawsuit isn't likely to hold up in court, but it has been damaging by pitting men against women when the real fight for fairness should unify men and women in nonrevenue sports against bloated football and basketball programs. Even NCAA president Cedric Dempsey says the biggest barrier to gender equity is overspending by football and men's basketball.
Title IX doesn't require or encourage athletic directors to cut men's teams. Inefficient and unjust athletic directors are using it as an excuse for cutting men's teams.
Slice through the rhetoric of the wrestlers and see their glaring half-truth: While 171 wrestling, 84 men's tennis and 56 men's gymnastics programs were discontinued between 1981 and 1999, the General Accounting Office says more men's programs were added than subtracted. The additions included 135 men's soccer, 82 men's basketball and 85 baseball programs. Overall, the number of males playing sports at levels since 1972 has increased, not declined. Maybe wrestling just isn't winning the popularity contest.
And while male gymnasts deserve our sympathy, women gymnasts in that same period lost far more - 100 teams.
Title IX isn't a men vs. women issue. Title IX is a football issue.
Instead of blaming women rowers, why don't the wrestlers take a look at the football players, who consume huge pieces of the budget pie while the "minor" sports are left with crumbs. While the women try to come up with solutions, selfish football extends no aid.