Playing Games

Title IX Was Always About More Than Sports. So Is the Fight.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on affirmative action at Michigan, the justices already gave civil rights opponents a huge boost, of course, by anointing George Bush president. Bush has been careful to affirm that he supports Title IX—it's one of the most popular laws ever passed—but calling for re-examination, he presides over its stealth evisceration. His good pal House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former wrestling coach who once called for a voice vote in Congress to overturn Title IX, keeps a bug against the legislation in the president's ear. And the man Bush appointed as assistant secretary of the Department of Education's civil rights office, who has the job of enforcing Title IX—Gerald Reynolds—is such a notorious opponent of affirmative action that Bush gave him the nod while Congress was in recess and could not object.


You don't have to believe in vast right-wing conspiracies to recognize that those going after Title IX are not at the core most interested in improving athletic experiences for women and men alike. CIR and IWF openly reject the very idea, insisting that girls just don't like sports so much. But even the gender equity commission didn't so much as attempt to think about ways colleges can comply with Title IX while maintaining diverse men's sports programs.

illustration: Erik Sandberg

Even NCAA president Cedric Dempsey has said the biggest barrier to gender equity is overspending in men's basketball and football. (Among NCAA programs, 78 percent of the so-called "revenue-producing" football teams lose more money than they raise; more than a third are running deficits of over $1 million per year.) If football teams gave out 60 instead of the whopping 85 scholarships they each grant every year (NFL rosters top out at 53), their schools would be able to field wrestling and gymnastics squads and still have money to spare. If they stopped housing football players in hotels on the Friday nights before home games, they'd save, according to the NCAA, some $60,000 a year—enough to keep a swim team going. But the athletes are offered more and more special perks as colleges vie for recruits—the biggest affirmative action boondoggle if ever there was one.

At Division I schools especially, Title IX is taking the heat for a system that's out of control. Intercollegiate athletics has lost sight of its role as one piece of a well-rounded educational experience, Christine Grant, women's athletic director at the University of Iowa from 1973 until 2000, told the Voice. "Because it's all based on winning," she says, "you have to recruit the best, and so you have to keep up with what all the competitors are doing in terms of what you offer the recruits, and so we're on an accelerating treadmill and we can't get off."

In part that's because women like Grant who have an experience of a different way of doing things have been largely frozen out of decision-making positions ever since the NCAA supplanted the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in the early '80s. The AIAW granted scholarships on the basis of need, or at least restricted them to tuition. It emphasized athletes' academic lives and required them to meet the same admissions requirements as all other students. That philosophy has been shut out of today's male-dominated athletics directorships as the women who might have given voice to it were left behind. Which just goes to show how desperately affirmative action is still needed.

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