Slow motion penalty – lawsuit by National Women’s Law Center – related article on Title IX law – Despite Sluggish Progress, Four HBCUs Cited in Title IX Complaint

It is ironic that four historically Black colleges and universitiesare among the twenty-five institutions named in a Title IX complaintfiled by the National Women’s Law Center. Ironic, because the primemission of HBCUs is to provide educational opportunities to those whomay not otherwise get the chance to attend college. The complaint wasfiled in June just weeks before the celebration of Title IX’stwenty-fifth anniversary.

South Carolina State University, Coppin State College,Bethune-Cookman College, and Hampton University — all members of theMid-Eastern Athletic Conference — were named in the complaint asviolators of the law. The complaint is based on data provided by theschools under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act.

Specifically, the Law Center says schools named in the complaintshort-change female athletes when it comes to awarding scholarshipmoney. The organization contends that nationwide, women athletes getjust a little over a third of all available scholarship dollars. Putanother way, female athletes average $1,000 less per year inscholarship awards than male athletes.

That disparity, Law Center officials say, must change.

“This issue is not about schools having to add more women’ssports,” says Debbie Brake, senior counsel for the Law Center. “It’sabout closing the gap between male and female athletes in thescholarship dollars they receive. What we’re talking about is how youdivide the pie [for scholarships] that’s already in existence.”

Brake doesn’t view the complaint as an edict for schools to do theimpossible. What it comes down to, she says, is at a minimum, thepercentage of scholarship money for women athletes should be on parwith the percentage of women athletes in an institution’s sportsprogram. In other words, if 35 percent of an institution’s athletes arewomen, then that institution should have at least 35 percent of itsathletic scholarship money earmarked for women.

“The money aspect is an important foot in the door,” Brakecontinues. “For so many kids, having a scholarship is the only way theywill ever pay for a college education.”

The complaint has intensified public interest in gender equity. Twomonths before the Law Center complaint was filed, the U.S. SupremeCourt ordered Brown University to increase the number of varsity sportsfor women. In a previous ruling the court had found Brown guilty of notfollowing Title IX guidelines and mandated the school to spend $60,000to fund women’s sports.

The litigation proved costly to Brown, which has already spentapproximately $1 million in legal fees and could wind up paying another$1 million in damages before all is said and done. As a result, theinstitutions named in the complaint — particularly the HBCUs — aren’ttaking this issue lightly.

HBCUs have a unique understanding of what it means to provideavenues of opportunity. However, each HBCU named will have to determineits own course of action when deciding how best to balance the genderscale. Each institution’s approach will be different because theenvironment that each operates in is different from the others.

Coppin State College

“We understand that there’s a problem,” says Ron “Fang” Mitchell,Coppin State’s athletics director and head coach of the men’sbasketball team. “And we’re not making excuses, we just have to do abetter job of meeting those requirements. Right now, my main purpose isto put together a plan and we’ll have one finalized by November.”

Mitchell feels Coppin State has made some positive moves in itsTitle IX efforts. In fact, according to Mitchell, the institution wason target last year with equitable treatment of the sexes in howscholarship money was allocated.

“The allocation [of scholarship money for male and female athletes]was the same,” he explains, “but we fell short because we didn’t spendall of the money we had allocated for women’s sports. We’re limited inthe sports [for women] we can add, but we can enhance the scholarshipamounts in the sports that we do have.”

As an inner city commuter school in Baltimore, Coppin State findsitself operating under vastly different circumstances than its peers inthe MEAC. That’s because women make up 72 percent of the Coppin Statestudent body.

What makes Coppin State even more unique, Title IX-wise, is thatmost of the 72 percent don’t fit the traditional profile of a collegeundergraduate. Many are working mothers in the twenty-five-totwenty-seven-year-old range.

“Many of the students on our campus are non-traditional, and mostof the women have no interest in athletics,” says Desney G. Byrd,Coppin State’s associate athletics director and senior womanadministrator. “Once classes are over, they go to work or go home andtake care of their families. We’re going to need some unique solutions.For us, it’s a matter of mapping out a plan to make things equal withlimited funds.”

Coppin State is adding women’s golf this year, but it’squestionable whether or not there will be additional sports for womenadded in the future. Much depends on the women’s level of interest. Theschool did have a women’s swimming team once, but it eventually wasdiscontinued because there weren’t enough women interested inparticipating.

Mitchell says that ultimately, the Title IX requirements couldresult in cutbacks in the men’s program. That looms as a distinctpossibility for two reasons: Coppin State does not play football, whichis a major revenue-producer for many institutions; and basketball,which is the moneymaker at Coppin State, does not rake in the hugebucks that other National Collegiate Athletic Association Division Ischools — such as Kansas, UCLA or Kentucky — do.

Men’s basketball has big appeal on the 3,500-student campus inBaltimore. Coppin State gained national attention last spring withstunning performances in the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament –beating sixth-ranked South Carolina before losing by one point in theclosing moments of the second-round game to Texas.

Mitchell, who also doubles as Coppin State’s men’s basketballcoach, wants it known that his team did not become successful at theexpense of women’s sports.

“I want it to be understood that we are not intentionallyshort-changing women,” he says. “We’ll have to get creative and findways to raise more money. Otherwise, we’ll have to make cuts with themen. And the way things look, it’s going to be men’s basketball takingthe hardest hit. In the long run, women’s sports will have more moneyin their recruiting and operating budgets [than the men].”

South Carolina State University

At South Carolina State, all of the increases in the athleticsprogram have been for women, according to Dr. Tim Autry, theinstitution’s athletic director. The increases include morescholarships for women, and equity in hiring and salary levels forwomen staff members of the athletics department.

“We’re spending a proportionate amount for men and women, so there’s no question we’re moving toward compliance,” says Autry.

As part of its efforts to meet the law’s requirements, S.C. Statehas added bowling as a sport with scholarships designated for womenthis year. And six softball scholarships are now available; none wereavailable last year.

“We’re doing what we can to equalize things with scholarships,personnel, and salaries,” says Autry. “We have a concern, an obligationand an interest to get in compliance. We feel we’re moving in the rightdirection.”

Hampton University

The outlook for women’s sports is very positive at HamptonUniversity, according to the institution’s athletic department. Allwomen’s sports now have more scholarships, and the university has addedwomen’s golf — with scholarships — for the upcoming year. Two yearsago, Hampton expanded its athletics offering for women to include coedsailing and tennis — both with scholarships.

Dr. Dennis Thomas, Hampton’s athletic director, feels good aboutthe steps his university has taken. And that explains why he is upsetabout the complaint, which “gives the impression that Hampton isn’tdoing anything,” he says.

“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t consulted before the complaintwas filed,” says Thomas. “They took part of a report for [1995-96] thatindicated we were below par [with scholarship money for women], butdidn’t take into account that we have a plan in place that we arefollowing. Nobody in America will rectify all the inequities on TitleIX overnight.

“We’ve had a plan in place since 1995 and we’ll be in compliancebefore the year 2000. Once the OCR people see what we’re doing and whatwe’ve done in the past, I’m confident we’ll be cleared.”

Bethune-Cookman College

In recent years, women’s sports at Bethune-Cookman has taken aquantum leap. This past year, Bethune-Cookman finished second in theMEAC Women’s All-Sports Awards competition, a dramatic rise from itslast-place finish in the nine-member conference four years ago.

The all-sports competition is a measures of the overallcompetitiveness of an athletic program. A scoring system is used todetermine the order of finish based on how each institution places inMEAC-sanctioned championships.

“We attribute that directly to our increased commitment to women’ssports,” says Lynn Thompson, Bethune-Cookman’s athletic director. “Wecouldn’t have done it otherwise. Enhancing women’s sports helps theentire program. Women wear the school colors just like the men, sweatjust as hard, and deserve the same opportunities.”

To help get its program in line with Title IX, the college has puta moratorium on men’s sports for the last two years. The school offerswomen’s golf this year, and there is a club team in soccer which couldbe elevated to varsity status depending on the level of interest shownby women on the Bethune-Cookman campus.

Aside from that, intramural-level swimming, rifle and bowling arealso being introduced to ascertain which of those sports women may wantto pursue at the intercollegiate level.

Like Hampton’s Thomas, Thompson isn’t happy that Bethune-Cookman is on the Law Center’s list of violators.

“It was a shock to me,” says Thompson. “I felt wronged because wehad been working so diligently to provide opportunities for women’ssports at Bethune. For someone who’s not on this campus to get a pulseof what’s going on without looking at everything we’re doing well, it’snot right. It’s like taking a snapshot of our program without taking alook at the entire picture.”

An Optimistic Future

With Title IX being a prominent fixture in college athletics,women’s sports are beginning to reap some long-awaited benefits, whichinclude: more sports offered; increases in operating and recruitingbudgets; the hiring of more female coaches; and more scholarships forwomen.

Title IX advocates admit there has been some overall improvement inthe last twenty-five years. But they also insist that there’s still alot of ground to cover to achieve gender equity across the board.

“I’m an optimist,” Brake says. “I feel schools can make a lot ofchanges within the next five years. We’ve had enough stonewalling aboutthis. It’s time for schools to become more proactive and not wait for alawsuit to happen.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Title IX At a Glance

The National Women’s Law Center filed its Title IX complaint withthe U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in earlyJune. Law Center Officials say they’re prepared to file a lawsuit ifschools named in the complaint fail to take appropriate action toadequately address gender equity issues on their respective campuses.

Title IX is the federal law that bans gender discrimination ineducation. Since its inception in 1972, it has served as a major factorin taking women’s sport in the United States to a higher level.

The law applies to all public and private schools that receivefederal funds. To comply with Title IX, schools must meet one of threerequirements:

* The percentage of female athletes must be the same proportion asthe percentage of women enrolled as full-time undergraduate students;

* There must be a history of increasing opportunities for women;

* Schools must provide those opportunities in athletics which reflect the interest and abilities of females on that campus.

Colleges that fail to comply face the possibility of losing federalfunding. Implementation of this penalty, however, is rare. In mostinstances, the Office for Civil Rights encourages colleges to make thenecessary changes on their own — without getting the courts involved.

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