Commission Issues Report

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.3, April/May 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1503/wucommission.htm

If the mark of a good compromise is an agreement where all parties go away equally unhappy, then the Secretary of Education’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics report on Title IX will be remembered as a great compromise.

The Commission did not, as some people had hoped, recommend overhauling the way Title IX is enforced. However, others are concerned that its recommendations have opened the door for a weakening of the 30-year-old law.

The full effect of the Commission has yet to be felt as United States Education Department Secretary Rod Paige has not announced any changes in Title IX enforcement guidelines in the wake of the report. When the report was presented, however, Paige did indicate that he would consider only recommendations that were unanimously approved by the Commission.

This took some of the more contentious recommendations off the table, including the use of a straight 50-50 proportionality standard (plus or minus either two or three percent) instead of a school’s male-female enrollment ratio. Other proposals cut out include changing the way walk-on athletes and non-traditional students are accounted for in determining participation rates and examining allowance of private funding for sports teams.

The unanimous recommendations included developing clearer guidelines for complying with Title IX, giving equal weight to the three prongs currently used as compliance standards (proportionality, a demonstrated history of increasing opportunities for women, and full and effective accommodation of women’s interests and abilities), making clear that the cutting of men’s sports is a “disfavored” way of complying with Title IX, and establishing uniform enforcement of Title IX in all regions of the country.

The Commission also recommended unanimously that the Department of Education “should reaffirm its strong commitment to equal opportunity and the elimination of discrimination for girls and boys, women and men,” and that the Office for Civil Rights “should aggressively enforce Title IX standards, including implementing sanctions for institutions that do not comply.”

“After months of deliberation, it’s clear to us that Title IX enforcement needs reform in order to make the law more clear, fair, enforceable, and truly open to all, while maintaining the extraordinary progress set in motion by Title IX,” Commission co-chairs Ted Leland, Athletic Director at Stanford University, and Cynthia Cooper, four-time WNBA champion, said in a prepared statement. “The commission’s report is the first step in a lengthy public dialog that is certain to continue after this commission disbands. Extremists on either side of the debate won’t be happy with the final report. But we are proud to offer Secretary Paige our findings and recommendations and believe that Title IX at 30 offers great hope to men and women athletes alike.”

Others, however, are not so sure. Two commission members, soccer star Julie Foudy and former Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona issued their own minority report through the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) claiming some of the Commission’s recommendations would increase discrimination against women. They also questioned some of the Commission’s procedures, including the lack of commission members representing NAIA, NCAA Division II or III schools, and high schools.

Title IX proponents are especially concerned about the Commission’s recommendation that the Department of Education explore different ways of demonstrating equity beyond the current existing three-prong test.

“The Secretary’s statement is not a victory for Title IX or women’s sports,” said Marcia Greenberger, co-President of the NWLC. “The Title IX policies that guarantee equal opportunity for women and girls are still very much on the chopping block.”

Many of the most contentious debates generated by the Commission’s report centered on college athletics, but most of the unanimous recommendations address both high schools and colleges. Only one proposal is focused on high school athletics and that advocates the Department of Education “encourage educational and sports leaders to promote male and female student interest in athletics at the elementary and secondary levels to encourage participation in physical education.”

No timetable has been given as to when Paige will announce any changes that may be made to the guidelines used to determine Title IX compliance. The only certainties are that the Education Department will not change the law itself (only Congress can do that) and that the debate over Title IX implementation will continue.

A copy of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics’ final report, titled “Open To All: Title IX at 30” can be found on the Department of Education’s Web site at www.ed.gov/pubs/titleixat30/index.html.

A copy of the minority report issued through the National Women’s Law Center can be found on the “Athletics” section of the NWLC Web site at www.nwlc.org.