Title IX levels a lot more than just the playing field.

Title IX levels a lot more than just the playing field.

Title IX levels a lot more than just the playing field.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Oct. 1 2002 4:09 PM

Hardly Sporting

Don't gut Title IX until you know what it does.

(Continued from Page 1)

A more accurate understanding of Title IX's aims and impact would look beyond sports to the huge increases in the numbers of women lawyers, doctors, executives, engineers, and scientists in our midst. To be sure, Title IX codified social change: Women were already making their way onto college campuses and into graduate schools before the law was passed. But it is indisputable that Title IX had an immediate and massive impact on the gender contours of higher education. And lest you believe that the need for the law has passed, it bears noting that in 2000, the Department of Education received 396 complaints of sex discrimination alleging a violation of Title IX—but only 21 of these complaints alleged discrimination in intercollegiate athletics. Without Title IX, these wrongs would be much harder to remedy.


In the two town-hall meetings held thus far—in Atlanta and Chicago—Title IX has been both celebrated and criticized. The celebration is strange, given that the agenda of the meetings is to cast doubt upon the law. But everyone, especially male coaches, insists that women's increased participation in athletics is the greatest thing since the invention of the jockstrap. In Atlanta, Grant Teaff, the former head football coach at Baylor, declared Title IX "outstanding legislation."

Except, Teaff and other critics go on to say, for the fact that it's a quota system, focused on outcomes and not opportunities. Perhaps not surprisingly, women lawyers and coaches who defend Title IX—pointing to NCAA statistics showing how much less female coaches earn, and how much more is spent on recruitment and scholarships for male athletes—are promptly called quota queens.

Quota is a dirty word in American politics, and no one wants to have to fend off the charge that they're for them. But the issue here is really whose quota system is being challenged. Any numeric reference point refers to a quota. So, when a football coach argues that he should be able to field a team of 95 (male) players, he's also seeking a quota. Before Title IX, quotas were routinely used to limit, not expand, opportunities for women. So after Title IX, it's perhaps inevitable that whenever slots on men's teams are "lost," someone cries "quota."

In the town-hall meetings, it's also clear that the argument won't end with the issue of quotas on the playing field. Challenges to Title IX's implementation in both athletics and academics have been mounted for years by the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative organization that has the ear of the administration and a prominent role in today's Title IX debates. In June, IWF affiliate Jessica Gavora warned of "quota creep" from sports to other areas of education. Gavora—who advises and writes speeches for Attorney General John Ashcroft (and who's also the daughter-in-law of anti-Clinton attack-dog Lucianne Goldberg)—claims it is wrong to suggest that both sexes are "equally interested in and capable of playing lacrosse, excelling in physics, becoming electrical engineers or scoring 1600 on the SAT." Similarly, in the town-hall meeting in Atlanta, Gavora's IWF colleague Christine Stolba sounded an alarm about "quotas in every arena of higher education, including the classroom."

But again, there are quotas and there are quotas. Apparently statistical arguments about gender equity on campus are entirely palatable when the claim is that men and not women are at risk. Without a glimmer of worry about self-coronating as a quota queen, Stolba ominously remarked that "the underrepresented sex on campus will no longer be women, but men." One wonders: Does she think dismantling Title IX would get more boys to stay in school? And what if the lower numbers of boys on campus simply manifest boys' natural distaste for learning? Then shouldn't we let nature take its course?

Participating in sports may build character (the prevalence of banana fellatio notwithstanding), but participating in higher education builds life-chances off the playing field. Americans who get more years of schooling get more of everything else too: They make more money, stay healthier, and vote more. When women receive more education, it offsets the fact that their pay still lags behind men's. Since Title IX became law, women have made great strides off, as well as on, the playing field. To scale it back now would be … bananas.

Lynn Sanders teaches in the department of politics at the University of Virginia.