By Tim Powers
Editor's Note: The following article by Tim Powers, BYU head coach and President of the College Swimming Coaches Assoiciation of America (CSCAA) appears today on the web site of The National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/powers200310280823.asp)
AMID vibrant cheers, hamburgers grilling at tailgate parties, and the swing of marching bands, another season of college football is thrillingly underway. But in the background, like the blue-gray October sky of old, lies a quiet discord that is wrenching the heart of college athletics. For hundreds of athletes in sports like track, baseball, swimming, or wrestling, this season they will be told to stay off the fields of play, don't get on the track, get out of the pool, or stay off the mats — if the students happen to be men, that is.
That’s because, despite the pleas of parents, students, and coaches around
the country, the Department of Education this summer told schools that
long-overdue reforms to the gender-athletics law called Title IX will have to wait.
So, in what is becoming an annual ritual at virtually every school, men’s
athletic teams are going to be on the chopping block again. The latest is the accomplished wrestling team at Binghamton University, which had their team and scholarships eliminated just this month. Even a pledge from actor, and Binghamton alum, Billy Baldwin, to arrange independent funding for the team wasn’t enough to stop the Title IX guillotine. When schools are willing to snub famous and wealthy alumni, it shows clearly how strong is the fear of gender-quota lawsuits.
Cutting men's teams is a certainty because school officials fear that only by making their athletic departments exactly “proportional” to their entire undergraduate student body can they be safe from government investigation and trial lawyers.
What is the easiest, quickest, cheapest, legally foolproof way to do it?
Order the men’s teams to hand in their cleats. This practice doesn’t benefit women in any way, mind you, it is just about making the numbers fit. That one awful provision, proportionality, added by bureaucrats and activists years after the law was originally signed has become a public-policy sledgehammer that we would accept nowhere else in American public life.
For much of the last year, a presidential commission heard testimony
detailing the wreckage that the quota system has strewn on America’s college campuses:
* UCLA’s swimming team, with scores of Olympic medals, gone.
* Howard University’s decades-old baseball team, cut forever.
* Kent State hockey, no more.
* U. Mass gymnastics, hang ‘em up.
Many states, like Texas and Florida, have thousands of high-school wrestlers but no college wrestling programs left.
A broad majority of the commissioners wanted some sort of common-sense
reform. How broad? The only two who stood in the way are on the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation, an activist group that fosters Title IX lawsuits.
And the reforms were as basic as can be. One vague provision already a part of the law says that schools can comply by providing teams based on the level of interest. So, the commission suggested, we should find some clear ways to measure how interested men and women are in athletics. They were greeted with accusations of sexism even though most of the commissioners were women themselves.
Cynthia Cooper, the WNBA player who co-chaired the commission, tried in vain to raise these very points. “The law of Title IX stays as is,” she explained during a recent hearing. “We are talking about the three-part test. Are you attending a university to play sports? If not, then why should you be counted for proportionality?”
Cooper was quickly rebuked by Julie Foudy, president of the Women’s Sports
Foundation, who argued “If 3 percent of airline pilots are Black, does that means that Blacks are afraid of flying?” Foudy went on to call Cooper’s ideas “crazy” and “dangerous” — exactly the kind of invective that greets anyone who dares to challenge proportionality.
What became obvious as the Title IX Commission saw its hard work go up in
smoke is that college athletes are being sacrificed to the demands of political interest groups like Foudy’s. Just days after the commission issued its report, gender-activist groups like the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Law Center staged press conferences threatening that Republican candidates would lose votes if the president adopted the commission’s recommendations.
The political advisers at the White House quickly caved. But anyone who
thinks that the college coaches who started this reform effort will be discouraged by politicians or the gender police ought to think again. We practically invented the word tenacity and our only special interest is in seeing that all athletes get a chance to live their competitive dreams.
Coaches from schools large and small, from coast to coast, in sports like
swimming, track, gymnastics, wrestling, and golf, have united under the banner of the College Sports Council to demand that fairness in Title IX should apply to everyone — young men and women alike. We have filed a new lawsuit in federal court that makes that case as plain as day.
So let’s make it clear, once and for all: Everyone agrees that Title IX is a good law and that men and women should have equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The problem is with the unreasonable gender quota — which is clearly causing schools to cap and cut men’s teams. President Bush ran on a promise to, "leave no child behind." Isn't this ideal woven into the fabric of the American Dream and shouldn't we, who call ourselves educators, be about securing this promise rather than limiting opportunities for students to pursue their dreams?
I believe firmly that there is a middle ground where we can craft a solution. Coaches, parents and athletes are there. Women like Cynthia Cooper and the University of Maryland’s Debbie Yow are there.
Men and women shouldn’t be on opposing teams — we are all in this together.
— Tim Powers is head swimming coach at Brigham Young University and a member of the College Sports Council, a coalition of collegiate coaching