Title IX Applies to Field Upgrades

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1307/bbtitleixupgrades.htm

When a baseball game at Mayo High School in Rochester, Minn., was called this year due to darkness, it wasn’t because the school’s field lacked lights or because they were broken. It was because softball fields in the district don’t have lights. Faced with a mandate to make its facilities more equitable to comply with Title IX, the district wouldn’t allow baseball teams to schedule home games under the lights as long as the softball teams didn’t have the same opportunity.

Mayo’s story is one for baseball coaches to be aware of as they contemplate field upgrades, since the condition of respective facilities can say a lot about gender equity at a school if a Title IX complaint is brought. That doesn’t necessarily mean a school’s softball and baseball facilities have to be equal in every way, but it pays to make sure that any plan for improving a baseball field also examines the state of facilities used primarily by female student-athletes.

For Mayo, the issue began two years ago when a parent from another high school in the Rochester Public School District, which includes Mayo, Century, and John Marshall high schools, filed a complaint with the U. S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Among other inequities, the parent alleged that facilities and equipment for Rochester’s female student-athletes were inferior to boys’ in several sports, including softball. The OCR investigated and agreed. It ordered the district to fix disparities between softball and baseball scoreboards, dugouts, public address systems, concessions stands, bleachers, press boxes, and lighting.

The district fixed the other inequities, but couldn’t afford to purchase lights for the softball fields, according to Mark Kuisle, Interim Supervisor of Athletics for Rochester Public Schools. So the OCR ordered the district to play baseball games only under natural light—a decision that left the Mayo team calling a game in April rather than reaching for the light switch.

Outcry from parents after that game prompted Kuisle to discuss the issue with the OCR again. “They told me that the instruction was actually to not schedule any night games, but that we were allowed to use the lights to finish games already in progress,” he says. “We used the lights three times during the season for the last two innings of double-headers.”

The case raises a Title IX hot topic many schools are en--countering. “When baseball fields have a lot of amenities and softball fields don’t, it’s very visible, and that seems to be the case at a large number of schools,” says Neena Chaudry, Senior Legal Counsel for the National Women’s Law Center.

Rochester’s solution is technically legal, but it’s not ideal, according to Chaudry. “We refer to that as ‘equalizing down,’ and it’s always better to equalize up if at all possible,” she says. “When you equalize down, you often end up with a situation that makes both girls and boys feel bad, since the girls feel like they were responsible for taking something away from the boys. It also creates a backlash against Title IX and creates bitterness about the law.

“When girls are used to not having the same facilities the boys have, they come to expect that,” continues Chaudry. “When coaches hear their female athletes say, ‘We don’t care,’ it’s their job to educate the athletes about what the law requires. Otherwise, we’re training young women to grow up expecting less.”

In the meantime, Rochester may collaborate with the Rochester Park and Recreation Department to improve a city complex for varsity softball teams. “That could be a viable solution, although it can create another inequity because girls aren’t able to play their home games at home,” Chaudry says.

Another possibility involves evening out treatment across a school’s overall athletic program, perhaps making up for a sub-par softball facility by providing extra amenities to another female team. “Title IX is not intended to be a sport-by-sport comparison,” Chaudry says. “The question is whether, in the athletic program as a whole, the amenities provided to the genders are equitable.

“However, if at all possible, it’s best to find some way, through fundraising or booster donations or appeals to the community, to provide equal facilities for softball and baseball, since these are such visible programs,” Chaudry adds. “It’s a common problem, and it’s one that schools really need to work to find creative solutions to.”