Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Title IX and Football

Talking about football and Title IX in the same breath is certain to elicit strong responses. In a more ideal world (or at least one with larger budgets), the best way to comply with the proportionality prong of Title IX is to balance out football by creating more opportunities for women's sports and leaving men's sports untouched. Because of budget realities, however, increasing women's sports opportunities is generally not feasible without cutting men's sports opportunities, resulting in what happened at James Madison University recently, where, under the school's new plan, 12 women's sports and six men's sports exist at the varsity level (with football accounting for many of the participation slots of male athletes).

Some commentators believe that the solution to Title IX compliance problems lies with football: by either exempting football from a school's Title IX calculus or by reducing the number of players on a football team in order to help achieve compliance with the proportionality prong.

There are problems with both of these approaches. First, when Congress took up discussion of Title IX in 1972, the question of football was specifically raised and debated. The conclusion of that debate was that the exclusion of football from the Title IX calculus would gut the legislation's goal of mandating that schools apportion resources equitably among men and women. Amendments to Title IX to exclude football were proposed four times in the 1970s, each time failing.

Second, although it's true that college football teams field many more players than professional football teams, there are valid reasons for this: professional rosters don't include those players on an injured reserve list, whereas college rosters account for all players; and because college players are younger and are still developing physically, there is a belief that additional players are necessary to compensate for those lost to injury during a season.

Of course, there are valid arguments for cutting football programs altogether, or for reducing the number of scholarships available for football, then using the savings to fund additional sports opportunities for women (although schools that attempt this later course of action sometimes encounter problems from alumni and donors who don't want to see the football team "hurt by Title IX"). Whatever a school's view is on the subject, it's clear that the landscape of football and Title IX is one that's difficult to navigate.

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