A weary wrestling coach once lamented that his sport had survived the Fall of Rome, only to be vanquished by Title IX. How did an honorable equity law turn into a scorched-earth campaign against men’s sports? This week is the 42nd anniversary of this famous piece of federal legislation so it’s an ideal time to consider what went wrong and how to set it right.
Title IX was signed into law by President Nixon on June 23, 1972. In 37 momentous words, it outlawed gender discrimination in all publicly supported educational programs. Before its passage, many leading universities did not accept women and law schools and medical schools often used quotas to limit female enrollment. As for sports, female student athletes were rare — and received precious little support from college athletic programs. The logic behind Title IX is the same as that behind all great civil rights legislation: In our democracy, the government may not play favorites among races or religions or between the sexes. We are all equal before the law — including students in colleges and universities receiving public funds.
Title IX applies to all areas of education but is best known for its influence on sports. Women’s athletics have flourished in recent decades, and Title IX deserves some of the cheers. But something went wrong in the law’s implementation. The original law was about equality of opportunity and indeed forbade quotas or reverse discrimination schemes. But over the years, government officials, college administrators and jurists — spurred on by groups like the National Women’s Law Center and the Women’s Sports Foundation — transformed a fair-minded equity law into just such a quota-driven regime, with destructive results.
Women’s groups strongly object to the “q” word. “Title IX does not in any way require quotas,” says the National Women’s Law Center. “It simply requires that schools allocate participation opportunities non-discriminatorily.” That can mean many things, but in the hands of bureaucrats and advocates, this diffuse requirement somehow came to mean that women are entitled to “statistical proportionality.” That is to say, if a college’s student body is 60% female, then 60% of the athletes should be female — even if far fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at that college.
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