Although the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics finished its panel meetings Thursday, it is still unclear on what measures will be taken, if any, to amend Title IX.
The commission was formed by the Bush administration in response to a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, a group which thinks Title IX is the reason colleges and universities across the country have been forced to eliminate various men's teams.
NWCA wants the proportionality clause of Title IX to be eliminated from the law entirely. Title IX is a part of the Education Acts of 1972 that enforce gender-fairness in athletics and in the classroom.
The proportionality standard of the bill is one-third of the test that the Office of Civil Rights asks institutions to follow when assessing if they are within the realm of the law. If schools do not follow the guidelines of Title IX, OCR can take legal action and even take away scholarship and grant dollars allocated to the offending college or university.
During the life-span of Title IX, OCR has never had to take such measures.
The "three prong test" established by the OCR requires schools to meet one of the following: 1) Have a ratio of male and female student-athletes similar to a school's overall student makeup; 2) Show a history of improvements in women's athletic programs, or 3) Show that women's programs receive the same accommodations as men's programs.
The commission is composed of 15 members appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Rod Paige. According to the department's Web site, the panel met after conducting several "town meetings" across the nation to hear public views on the issue.
"I felt like that in their town forums that it was pretty dominant that proportionality should be eliminated," said Oklahoma State University wrestling coach John Smith. "But, what you have is that several committee members were glued on what they wanted to vote for, and they didn't waver on anything the public had to offer."
After the panel concluded its discussions Thursday, it was to prepare a report outlining its findings and recommendations. The report was submitted to Paige Friday.
Upon voting in Thursday's meetings, the committee was deadlocked in a 7-7 tie in order for schools to have an equal 50-50 percent male-female ratio in athletics, no matter the enrollment figures, The Associated Press reported Friday. The 15th and deciding vote would have come from committee member, Lisa Graham Keegan, who did not vote because she was in another panel discussion during the voting process.
However, to the delight of Title IX advocates, the committee voted 11-4 against abolishing the proportionality clause completely, according to the AP. In its recommendation to Paige, the members instead requested changes in the way proportionality is achieved.
The panel recommended that walk-ons shouldn't count toward compliance numbers, and the law should require a predetermined amount of roster spots to be counted toward compliance, instead of the physical numbers of the entire team makeup.
"I am very pleased that the commission has agreed on a number of reforms that will strengthen Title IX," Paige said in a statement.
With Paige's public statement, some believe it is already evident that the secretary supports the findings of the committee and will take their requests through the legislative process.
After Keegan's refusal to speak with reporters about her absence during the voting process, Smith, who is a member of NWCA, said he was concerned.
"It is very interesting to why she wasn't there," Smith said. "You've been chosen for this panel and you are representing the views of the entire country, and you choose to not be available. Why was she appointed to the committee in the first place if she wasn't going to vote on all the issues? It was obvious that she would have been the deciding vote."
In a Sept. 26 letter to the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, NWCA banned together with the College Sports Council, pleading with them to amend the "vagueness" of Title IX.
"Schools cannot punitively limit the athletic opportunities of one gender because students of the other gender freely choose to participate in alternate extracurricular activities," the letter said. "Consequently, the gender ratios for the entire student body cannot and do not accurately predict interest in intercollegiate athletics any more than they predict interest in dance or music. Although proportionality with enrollment ratios may be easy to measure, administrative convenience cannot justify discrimination."
The letter outlines the desire of the NWCA to aid the Department of Education in preventing the discrimination it believes Title IX shows toward male athletes.
"If students of either gender experience institutionalized discrimination during their college years, we have failed as educators," the letter said. "Our lawsuit challenges only the three part test. We are not challenging the 1975 regulations or Title IX. Indeed we are trying to enforce both, which together provide for equal opportunity base on interest and prohibit intentional gender-based discrimination."
The letter further outlined the seven questions and ideas the committee considered and voted upon during its meetings last week.
OSU's senior women's athletic administrator, Ann Baer, said it is important to keep in mind that the committee is just that -- a committee.
"They are there just to make recommendations," she said. "It isn't as if the law is going to change tomorrow. If anything does happen, it isn't going to be quick. We are talking about the government, after all."
Smith said it was apparent with the closeness of the votes that the panel didn't want to be the hand that rocked the cradle.
"To me it appears they left it open for the Bush administration to decide," Smith said. "They voted pretty much down the middle on all the issues, and because of that, we are almost where we started."
Without a clear-cut decision by the panel, it looks as if the committee is just passing the buck, Smith said.
"(The recommendations) didn't tie them down to one decision or another," Smith said. "They left a wide-range of possibilities open for others to lose sleep over."
It is unsure when Paige will announce his public stance on the committee's report. He has been tight-lipped, only issuing the one statement so far. Paige can only present views to the legislature, and it has the last word on any alterations to the amendment.
"John (Smith)'s stance is an interesting one because we would be the last state in the union to ever drop wrestling," Baer said. "But I know he is lobbying for the good of all the non-revenue sports, too. He is very educated on the issues of Title IX."
For Smith and the NWCA, it is a relief that steps have been taken to locate the answers that remain about Title IX.
"I think if anything, it has been brought to the forefront," he said. "The non-revenue sports suffer because of the proportionality clause. Anything (the Legislature) decides to do; it won't revive any of these programs that have been cut.
"But it could save some of the programs that are on the brink, if there are alterations to the clause, we may just be able to hold onto some of these existing programs like men's gymnastics, swimming and water polo," Smith said.
Women's organizations such as the National Women's Law Center have said that the meetings the panel has gone through over the past months have been just "for show", and Paige already knew which way he will approach the lawsuit filed by the NWCA.
"It was an interesting committee," Baer said. "It seems to me they just spent a lot of money to come up with nothing."
Funds to pay for costs and salaries of the panel members come directly from the Department of Education. According to its Web site, the department will spend $700,000 over the two-year life span of the committee.
Brandi Ball can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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