Title IX: does help for women come at the expense of African Americans?

Gender equity has created an intriguing
set of circumstances in the
world of college athletics.

On the one hand, Title IX, the federal
law which forbids sex discrimination in
educational institutions receiving federal
funds, has opended the window of opportunity for scores
of female athletes.
The NCAA women’s basketball tournament offers
ample proof. The Women’s Final has attracted a
average of almost 50,000 fans over the past two years.
And there are other examples. Soccer has blossomed
as a premier women’s sport in
America. Colleges and universities
are a major part of the feeder
system that produced players for
the 1996 Olympic gold-medal
winning U.S. soccer team.

Women’s gymnastics and swimming
are also on the rise as
collegiate sports which feature
top-caliber competition and
widespread fan support.
But there is a down side. While
there are now more women sports
programs on the collegiate scene,
critics say that in general, women
have benefitted at the expense of
men’s sports.

It’s All About Proportionality
In order for schools to comply
with Title IX, schools have to
provide opportunities for female
athletes that are in line with the
percentage of females on that
campus. Put another way, if a
school’s student body is 55 percent
women, 55 percent of its total
athletic offerings must be geared
toward women. The law doesn’t
mandate that schools treat men’s
and women’s sports identically, but
it does say that the benefits for
both should be comparable.

Few
schools have yet met this text,
according to recent surveys [see BI
the Numbers, pg. 27], but pressure
to comply may increase after a
landmark Title IX case against
Brown University works its was;
through the Supreme Court.
For many schools, adhering to
Title IX means cutting men’s sports
to provide funding for
women. In amny instances, schools have had to eliminate
some men’s spot’s or reduce — sometimes dramatically — the
number of scholarships and coaches in those
sports.

“If you increase opportunities for one group, I’m not
so sure that you don’t wind up denying another group,”
says Alex wood, head football coach
at James Madison University and vice-president
of the Black coaches Association.
“And because there’s only so
much money available to operate a
college sports program, somebody
will inevitably get the short end of
the stick.”

Football has become a main
target for Title IX advocates because it
eats up a large chunk of the athletic
budget. The sport is expensive because
of the large roster sizes (80-100
players), equipment, and recruiting
costs.

Title IX supporters assert that
schools can reduce football
scholarships and still maintain a
competitive program. They point to
National Football League (NFL) teams
which have roster limits of forty-five
players. When compared to the
eighty-five scholarship limit that the
major college football programs have,
they ask, “If the pros prosper with
forty-five, why can’t the colleges?”
Decreasing the number of football
scholarships, Title IX proponents
explain, will free up sufficient money
to finance women’s sports.

Race v. Gender

This is where race and gender wind
up on a collision course.
“The race versus gender issue is
very real,” says Wood. “In football, a
large number of the players are Black.
So when you start cutting scholarships,
you not only take away the
opportunity to play, you take away
the opportunity to go to school.
Playing football is the only way that
a lot of Black players get to go to
college at all.”

Black males aren’t the only ones to feel the
pinch. Black women, ironically, are also caught
in the crunch.
As a group, Black women have not benefitted
from Title IX because the expansion in
women’s athletics involves sports where Black
female participation is minimal. It is estimated
that approximately 97 percent of the 4,000
Black female collegiate athletes participate in
basketball or track and field. However, the
so-called “emerging” or nontraditional
sports — gymnastics, swimming, crew,
lacrosse and soccer, to name a few — are the
ones that many schools are opting to add to
help meet Title IX guidelines.

“Women of color are hurt because they
don’t participate in those sports where all the
expansion is taking place,” says Dee Todd,
assistant commissioner of the Atlantic Coast
Conference. “Women of color have a double
protected status [because of race and gender],
but they’re still left out. Most play basketball
or run track. You’ll see a handful in volleyball,
softball and soccer, but that’s about it. As a
result, Tide IX doesn’t do a whole lot for
women of color.”

While Blacks don’t participate in the
non-traditional sports in large numbers, Todd
says there is one sport that many colleges and
Black athletes have yet to look at as an
alternative — team handball.

“I can’t say why more schools aren’t
playing team handball,” says Todd. “You
don’t need a lot in terms of facilities, all you
need is a wall. But the people who can do
well in this sport are athletes who’ve played
basketball and volleyball — sports that
require good hand-to-eye coordination.”

Broadening Athletic Horizons

In the long run, Black athletes — male and
female — will have to broaden their athletic
horizons if they want to earn college athletic
scholarships. In other words, Blacks will
have to begin taking up sports other than
football, basketball and track because there
won’t be any expansion in those sports.

Todd feels Blacks can he steered toward
other sports if they’re exposed at an early age.
“I talk to youngsters all the time and I tell
them if they want a college scholarship, get a
golf club and learn how to play, or take swim
lessons, or get into youth soccer.
There’s no reason why Black youngsters can’t
do well in those sports. It’s all a matter of
exposure.”

There are no easy solutions in the
athletic competition between race and
gender. In too many instances, it seems that
the two are always in direct conflict. But
even when they are not, problems can arise.
For example, a school might add field hockey
to its sports menu to comply with Title IX,
then discover that there is not sufficient
interest among the students to maintain it. In
that scenario, the sport was added strictly
because of Title IX, not because the students
wanted it.

In the short-term, however, Wood
contends that schools can individually do
the right thing by choosing to allocate their
athletic resources in a fair manner among
men and women’s sports.

“Everybody should have the opportunity
to play and have a good experience in doing
so,” Wood says. “The same kinds of
opportunities should be provided for
everybody, and nobody should feel like
they’re getting second-class treatment. Each
school has to look at its own situation and
make a decision based on what their individual
needs are. Schools have to look at what their
constituents want.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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