WASHINGTON – The intensity of the debate over possible changes in gender discrimination laws covering college sports surfaced quickly Wednesday as members of a Bush administration commission who want to maintain the law's current standards won the right to have dissenting views included in their final report.
"There's tremendous passion on this issue," said commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team. "To not represent both sides of the passion is a disservice of what we're going to give to the secretary."
The 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics was scheduled to debate and vote on recommendations to forward to Education Secretary Rod Paige, but the panel spent the first hour of the two-day meeting debating its own procedures.
Foudy and Donna de Varona are expecting a majority of the commissioners to vote in favor of scaling back standards in the 31-year-old Title IX gender equity law that has exponentially increased participation in women's sports. They were upset that the initial procedures did not call for minority views to be included in the final report, a rule Foudy said was essentially a "gag order."
"It's inappropriate," said co-chairman Ted Leland, athletic director at Stanford. "I don't think anybody's gagged you."
After lengthy debate, the commissioners agreed that their final report will include both viewpoints on any recommendation that isn't reached by consensus or majority vote.
"Differences need to be included in the process," said Percy Bates, the director of Programs for Educational Opportunities at Michigan.
The laborious pace nearly exasperated some commissioners, and it was followed by another prolonged discussion and two votes over the merits of just one sentence of statistics contained in the report's background section. The back-and-forth caused the board to get a late start on its primary purpose -- tackling 24 wide-ranging recommendations culled from five public hearings across the country.
"Can we just start the meeting? Please?" Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said at one point.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Critics say the law has, in effect, punished male athletes to provide more opportunities for women.
Among the many recommendations, the commission is considering changes to the Title IX plank that says a school's male-female athlete ratio should be "substantially proportionate" to the male-female enrollment.
Yow has proposed that schools be allowed to have a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the makeup of the student body, with a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.
Some commissioners have proposed using campus surveys to gauge women's interest in sports and using the results as a basis to determine whether athletic programs accurately represent that interest.
Other proposals would tie a college's male-female athlete ratio to that of high schools in its area. Others would keep the current standard, but allow leeways of 3.5, 5 or 7 percentage points.
Several women's groups, fearful that the commission will substantially weaken Title IX, protested outside the hotel where the meeting took place.
"Title IX got me where I am today," said women's national soccer team goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, who was among the protesters.
Also present at meeting were representatives of the College Sports Council, which is supporting a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. The suit claims the proportionality standard has led to the elimination of hundreds of men's sports teams.
"I just want to make sure that all sports have a chance to survive," U.S. national wrestling coach Dan Gable said.
The commission must submit its final report to Paige by Friday. Paige formed the commission last year in response to the wrestling coaches' lawsuit.