WASHINGTON – A sharply divided Bush administration advisory commission voted Thursday for only modest changes to a landmark gender-equity law that substantially increased the number of female athletes.
Women's sports advocates had feared the 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics would seek to overhaul -- and likely weaken -- Title IX. But after two days of sometimes contentious meetings, the panel failed to pass any sweeping recommendations.
In a key vote, the commission deadlocked 7-7 on a plan to alter the requirement that the ratio of male and female athletes at colleges and universities be roughly the same as the overall student body.
Commissioner Lisa Graham Keegan showed up after the plan was considered and left the meeting early without talking to reporters.
The commission will forward its report to Education Secretary Rod Paige, who will consider whether to recommend changing the law.
University of Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow proposed that schools be allowed a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the student body makeup, with a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.
Yow, who proposed the recommendation that produced the tie, said she's satisfied because under commission rules the deadlock means it still goes into the report.
"To not represent both sides of the passion is a disservice of what we're going to give to the secretary," said commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, who supported including the dissent into the final recommendations.
After Yow's proposal failed to pass, several more changes that would have altered or eliminated Title IX's fundamental proportionality standard were defeated.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Its effect has been profound: The number of girls participating in high school sports rose from 294,000 to 2.8 million from 1971-02. The number of women in college sports increased fivefold over a similar timeframe.
The commission also voted Thursday to not count male walk-ons -- athletes not on scholarships -- and nontraditional students such as those who are part-time or older as part of a school's male total. The change would mostly affect smaller schools, particularly community colleges.
Northern Illinois University athletic director Cary Groth opposed the recommendation.
"Walk-ons do cost money," Groth said. "We get back to what is the center of these discussions, and that is money."
Yow amended her plan to try to get it passed. It called for schools to be allowed a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the student body makeup, with a leeway of 2 to 3 percentage points. Her earlier proposal called for a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.
"If we had an apple and were hungry and we wanted to be fair, we would split it 50-50," Yow said.
Commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, was among those who voted against the plan. She said she doesn't believe the commission's mandate was to change proportionality and favors stronger enforcement of the existing law.
The commission voted down several other proposals, the most sweeping of which would have eliminated the "proportionality" requirement. It failed 11-4.
The commissioners also voted 8-7 against a proposal that interest surveys on campus be used to set a standard for proportionality. They did, however, vote to recommend that surveys be used as a tool to demonstrate Title IX compliance.
Critics say proportionality has forced schools to cut male sports to meet the ratio requirement. Roughly 400 men's college teams were eliminated in the 1990s, with wrestling taking such a blow that the National Wrestling Coaches Association has filed suit, claiming that the first prong has evolved into a quota system.