By Robert Groseth
Head Men's Coach
I am writing this in response to a spate of recent articles written in major publications on the impact of the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Education's Equality in Athletic Opportunity Commission. It is clear that many of the authors of these articles have acquired their information from the same sources. It is also clear that it is incomplete and, in some cases, just plain wrong.
I am a member of the swimming community. As a college coach of a men's program, I am sensitive to what Title IX has done. We have lost 77 Division 1 programs in the past 20 years.
Recently, an exhaustive study was conducted to determine the cause and/or causes of these losses. Coaches and Athletic Directors of the affected programs were interviewed. The findings were as follows:
43% of the programs were dropped because of Title IX regulations alone;
57% of the programs were dropped because of funding, facilities and Title IX considerations.
All of the programs that were dropped had as all or part of the reason, Title IX regulations. All of them.
As a sport that represents both women and men, swimming couldn't be against Title IX. It has advanced the opportunities for our collegiate women to the point that there are now 185 Div 1 women's teams, versus 145 for men.
Upon further investigation, we found another curious thing. Women's swimming teams are no longer being added by colleges. The growth stopped in the late 1990's.
Why? In short, universities adopted a policy of cutting men's teams to achieve proportionality. A little research showed that the universities were responding to a regulation written in 1996 by the then- head of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Norma Cantu. This "Letter of Clarification" stated that Prong 1 of the Three Prong Test was the only safe harbor. It further went on to say, in Cantu's own words: "The rules here are straightforward. An institution can choose to eliminate or cap teams as a way of complying with part one (the only safe haven) of the three part test."
Because this "Clarification" was written to provide guidance for how Title IX should be applied, and because the Courts deferred to the Office of Civil Rights' regulations, this declaration carried the weight of law.
The Government and the court system were telling universities it was okay to drop men's teams to achieve proportionality. They need not continue to expand women's teams — just drop the men's.
Along with swimming, gymnastics, track and field and wrestling were losing teams at an alarming rate. Men's and women's swimming coaches were scratching their heads. Is this what we wanted? Trading one opportunity to lose another?
When the 1997 NCAA study came out that showed that over a five-year period, four men's opportunities were lost for every one gained by women, it was clear that the intention of this law had been subverted — quite literally, turned on its head.
To make a long story short, swimming along with gymnastics and track and field joined the lawsuit filed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Why? Because the suit did not attack Title IX. It attacked the aforementioned 1996 "Letter of Clarification" and the 1979 " Interpretation" written by the Department of Education.
The lawsuit used the original language and intention of Title IX to ask that these regulations be either modified or removed. In another part of the suit it showed that these Title IX regulations have not been properly authorized by the Attorney General or Congress, as is required by the Administrative Procedure Act. All other civil rights legislation has conformed with these legally-mandated procedures; only Title IX has been exempt.
All this led to the creation of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. I have attended three of the five meetings. I have read every transcript from every the meetings. No one — not one single person –advocated doing away with Title IX.
Wrestlers, gymnasts and swimmers from dropped programs, while lamenting their loses, applauded what Title IX had done for women. They did not want women to lose opportunities and neither does the Commission.
Although the Commission was formed in response to the NWCA lawsuit, not one representative from any of the sports involved in the lawsuit was represented. The Women's Sport Foundation has its current president, Julie Foudy, and a founding member, Donna DeVarona, on the Commission. Neither they, nor any other member of the Commission, has even mentioned doing away with Title IX.
The focus was on the regulations:
Make them clearer.
Make them fairer.
Restore confidence in Title IX and then it can be enforced rigorously.
There are people with a political agenda that are invested in keeping the Title IX agenda contentious. It feeds their coffers and inspires their troops. For a person who deals with athletes every day, it saddens me to see them dominate the dialogue on this issue.
Read the original statute. Read the testimonies from the meetings. Read the 1979 "Interpretation" and the 1996 "Clarification". Read the recommendations in that context. Dispel these myths:
1. Wrestlers and other men's programs want to do away with Title IX. – Not True
2. The NWCA Lawsuit advocates eliminating Title IX. – Not True
3. Women will lose thousands of opportunities and millions of dollars if the Commission's recommendations are implemented. Not True.
This will never happen and anyone involved in this process would fight to the death to see that it doesn't. No one wants this.
4. The Commission was rigged. No representatives from men's cut sports and two representatives from the Women's Sport's Foundation. Are you kidding me! Not True.
5. The Commission is against Title IX. Not True. The focus was on the regulations. Title IX is and will remain intact.
Women will continue to gain opportunities with the Commission's recommendations. Men's programs will get protection from further erosion. Neither will happen fast enough to satisfy everyone. But, both can happen if the public trusts Title IX. The media can play a big part in building that trust or they can side with those who want to see the controversy continue. I wouldn't presume to tell you what to think, but I will ask you to check the facts and contribute to the solution of this important problem.