MHSAA Seasons Fight Continues

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.11, November 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1411/bbmhsaa.htm

In August, when a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling in the Title IX lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), it looked like a long legal battle was reaching an end. The panel said the MHSAA’s nontraditional seasons for six girls’ sports discriminated against females, and gender-equity advocates looked forward to statewide schedule changes. But the association has filed yet another appeal, sending the case back to court.

The suit was first filed in 1998 when the mothers of two female athletes in Grand Rapids claimed that the MHSAA discriminated against girls by sanctioning girls’ volleyball in the winter and basketball in the fall, out of step with most other state associations and college programs. They said these nontraditional seasons created a long list of disadvantages for Michigan girls, including reduced exposure to college recruiters and fewer opportunities for interstate competition. They also noted that while six girls’ sports are played in nontraditional seasons, the same is not true for any boys’ sports.

The MHSAA maintains that its season structure is best for both genders because it reduces competition for limited resources—a school with one gym doesn’t have to juggle boys’ and girls’ practice schedules if the two teams play in different seasons. The association also points to the large number of Michigan girls who receive college athletic scholarships to refute the claim that girls are at a disadvantage.

The MHSAA filed its latest appeal request on Aug. 31, and as a result, all 14 active judges on the 6th U.S. Circuit have been asked to review the case. The court has yet to decide whether it will grant another hearing, but it is now certain that changes to the Michigan high school sports seasons will come no earlier than the 2007-08 school year.

In the meantime, the advocacy group Communities For Equity (CFE), which helped file the original lawsuit, is working on other fronts to promote gender equity in the Wolverine State. Earlier this year, it introduced a Title IX audit to help high school athletic departments evaluate their compliance with the law. Currently being used throughout the Kent (Mich.) Intermediate School District (which comprises more than 20 high schools), CFE hopes the audit will spread across the state in the coming years.

The audit is filled out annually by a school’s athletic director or Title IX coordinator and addresses many aspects of athletic equity. In addition to standard proportionality information (total enrollment and sports participation by gender), it also asks about equal access to prime time contests; presence of a sideline cheer squad, mascot, and/or announcers to support the athletes; availability of concessions and printed programs during events; and pep assemblies for teams.

After a school completes the audit, athletic department officials review the information on their own and send the results to their regional school district’s office. The findings are also shared with athletes’ parents at preseason meetings.

“Parents receive a copy of the report, and when we present it to them, we discuss what it means and explain how the data reflects the opportunities available to students and ways they’re taking advantage of those opportunities,” says Ron Koehler, Assistant Superintendent for Kent ISD, who worked with CFE to develop the audit. “It makes parents aware of what Title IX means for their children and how their school is doing in terms of compliance.”

For more information on Communities for Equity and its ongoing suit against the MHSAA, visit: www.communitiesforequity.com.