Commission Debates Changes to Title IX Program

Some groups say that if schools are going to follow the rules of Title IX — the bill that requires males and females equal access to school athletic teams — then more than half of school athletic funds should go to women's teams, since women are now 56 percent of the student population.

But a Department of Education commission is currently considering changing Title IX regulations so that proportionality is more proportionately gauged when determining which sports should stay or go.

As it stands now, some universities are being forced to make tough choices. If they hand out 100 scholarships for the popular men's football and basketball programs, they must offer an equal number of scholarships to women athletes. Sometimes, the only way to make things balance out is to cancel the minor men's sports programs, like wrestling or men's gymnastics.

Commission members say that equal opportunity remains a vital concern behind revisiting Title IX rules, but that Title IX is catching flak because it minimizes consideration of issues other than the ratio of men to women in schools.

"Should you have 56 percent of the athletic scholarships go to women? That's a basic issue, or should you look at that number and say, while we want to be sure to guarantee equal opportunities for women, are there not other factors to take into account?" asked Rita Simon, a professor at American University and a commission member.

"I think it's very important to say that everybody on the commission is very supportive of Title IX. Nobody wants to do anything that would hurt the concept of equal opportunity. I think there are some questions that have come up about what kinds of adjustments we can make that will be consistent with equal opportunity ... Maybe we need some additional data on interest among the young women at the college level rather than using strict proportionality," she said.

Supporters of Title IX, first established in 1972, are outraged that the commission might tinker with the law.

"The problem is that they are pointing their fingers at the wrong culprit. Title IX does not mandate cuts to men's sports opportunities, and in fact, most schools comply to Title IX without cutting any men's opportunities at all," said Jocelyn Samuels of the National Women's Law Center. "The problem is at those schools who choose to put the lions' share of their budgets into football and men's basketball and end up shortchanging other men's sports opportunity."

Samuels said she is hoping the commission concludes that any changes to Title IX policies won't guarantee the continuation of popular sports programs, but will more likely cut off opportunities that some groups may never have had otherwise.

"I think that the greatest hope is that the commissioners will realize the radical nature of the proposals that are on the table and after an opportunity to fully consider the record before them, come to conclusion that Title IX policies are fair, are lawful and should be more strongly enforced," Samuels said.

Commission members are being swamped by e-mails from soccer moms and soccer dads concerned that their daughters might not have the athletic opportunities now afforded under Title IX. A final decision was expected late January but the deadline has been pushed back to late February, a delay that has been attributed to the controversial nature of the topic.

Some who are opposed to changes in Title IX regulations are taking the time to make a stronger case to the Bush administration, which will likely have the nation vastly pre-occupied with events in Iraq when the decision is made.

In either case, no one denies that sports programs are being cut and lack of money is a main reason. There are perhaps only about 20 men's gymnastics programs left in universities around the country, and swimming, wrestling and baseball teams are also on the decline.

Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.