Washington Supporters of the status quo for Title IX were dealt a setback Tuesday when a Bush administration commission issued procedures that stated its final report "will not include minority views." Commissioner Donna de Varona said the procedures are "tantamount to a gag order."
The Education Department's 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics will debate and vote on as many as 24 recommendations during public meetings today and Thursday. Several commissioners have said they expect the panel will vote to weaken the 31-year-old gender-equity law that greatly increased female participation in sports.
De Varona, a two-time Olympic champion swimmer, is among a minority of commissioners who would like to see Title IX's rules remain essentially intact. She echoed sentiments expressed by several women's groups that the makeup of the commission was stacked in favor of NCAA Division I schools who would like to see the rules relaxed.
"We consider that this is tantamount to a gag order," de Varona said. "We want a minority report. It's our right as commissioners who have spent a lifetime fighting for equality.
"Regardless of the what the findings are, we should have been allowed to include a minority opinion or expression. That's the American way."
Many on the commission are believed to favor changing Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Critics say the law has, in effect, punished male athletes to provide more opportunities for women.
The National Wrestling Coaches Assn. has a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, claiming the proportionality standard has led to the elimination of hundreds of men's sports teams.
"It's clear that proportionality just doesn't work," said Eric Pearson of the College Sports Council, which represents the coaches. "It's created a quota system that was never intended when Title IX was originally created."
Donna Lopiano, Women's Sports Foundation executive director, said at a news conference she is concerned that proposed changes would erode gains made by women.
Lopiano said the changes would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of high school participation opportunities for girls and the loss of up to $189 million in college scholarships for women athletes each year.
The commission must submit its final report to Education Secretary Rod Paige by Friday.