A legal petition filed yesterday by the Pacific Legal Foundation could force the courts to take on Title IX, the portion of the Civil Rights Act which requires equal opportunity for women to play college varsity sports. The petition aims to demonstrate that Title IX, in its current interpretation, limits opportunities for men rather than creating opportunities for women.
Kaiden Johnson is a 15-year-old high school student who earned a spot on his school’s dance team. His school, located in Superior, Wisconsin, allows him to participate in varsity competitive dance. However, that school happens to be located in the rural upper northwest of the state, and for that reason it competes against schools from neighboring Minnesota. In Minnesota, boys are banned from competing in dance due to Title IX regulations. That’s how Kaiden was forced to sit on the sidelines while his team competed last December.
Should Minnesota allow the young man to compete this time around, the petition will not result in a lawsuit. If the state’s high school athletics governing body takes more than a month to respond, the issue will become a court case.
The fifteenth anniversary of the American Sports Council brought together Title IX experts for a discussion on the future of the law. During the Bush administration, some of these equality advocates developed a survey that schools can use to demonstrate that they are complying with Title IX. The surveys, emailed out to students, are designed to gauge interest in sports participation. If more men than women want to play a varsity sport, then the school can still (theoretically) comply with Title IX even if its teams have an unequal gender ratio.
Schools using the survey method would also be allowed to hold try-outs to gauge real interest and ability. Plenty of female college students might check a survey box declaring interest in the volleyball team, but only a fraction of that group might show up to tryouts. Of that group, a smaller portion may have the real ability to play the sport at the college level. The survey also gets sent to college men, and its creators say that often, most of the unmet interest in college sports is male.
The survey would have given colleges a fairly simple way to demonstrate compliance with the law. However, when the NCAA denounced it, schools quickly followed suit.
According to reform advocates, the real problem with Title IX isn’t how it was written, but how it has been interpreted. As it is written, the law does not require an equal number of women and men play sports at each college. It only requires that schools offer them equal opportunity.
Thanks to a 1979 interpretation, Title IX now works against its stated purpose of equality: If more men than women want to play intercollegiate sports, the school must either cut men’s teams or face potential lawsuits.
No other extracurricular activity faces the same gender requirement. The theatre troupe and the choir can still be mostly female, but sports must be gender-balanced.
Title IX reformers frame college sports as a civil rights issue. Of course, they readily state that no one has the right to be a collegiate athlete. Still, applicants for a college sports opportunity – just like a job opportunity – should not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. For male college students who want to play a sport, their gender currently works against them.