Title IX's Pyrrhic Victory

ow the quest for "gender equity" is killing men's athletic programs

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"I think it's great that the women have those two sports," says former UCLA swimming coach Ron Ballatore. "It's too bad they had to drop two great men's sports. It's a terrible blow. Here's a place that has had swimming since the 1920s. It was one of the top programs in the country. It would be like Notre Dame or Nebraska cutting its football team." In the 16 years Ballatore coached UCLA, the school produced 26 NCAA champions and 10 Olympic gold medalists. It won the NCAA championship in 1982 and finished out of the top five just a handful of times. The only season it finished out of the top 10 was its last, lame-duck season.

Ballatore's swimmers fought hard to save the program. With the exception of one swimmer, his entire team elected to swim the 1994 season and work to save the team instead of transferring. "The day it happened, Coach Ballatore called me and gave me the choice of transferring right there or coming back for another year and trying to fight," recalls backstroker Michael Andrews. "I decided to stay and fight."

The swimmers raised money from alumni. They filed a lawsuit. In the end, though, nothing helped. "It didn't matter about success or the fact that your program was good," says Ballatore, who went on to coach at Brown and then the University of Florida, where he is currently an administrator. "It boiled down to money and Title IX. But money really wasn't an issue. We had raised enough money. We had an alumnus who was going to give us a bunch of money."

UCLA's gymnasts were cut loose as well, although they stayed on to train at the school's facility. Peter Vidmar, a UCLA alumnus who won two gold medals and a silver in the 1984 Olympics, says the school's chancellor told him it was due to Title IX. Jim Foody, who had hoped to make the 2000 Olympic team, is blunt. "In 1984 we had half the men's Olympic team," he told The Daily Bruin. "In 1992 we had the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked guys....For them to drop that team after what they did for the school, it's definitely shitty."

Even these cuts didn't protect UCLA from charges of discrimination. In December 1998 CAL-NOW filed a Title IX complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights, which is still under investigation. Betsy Stephenson, associate athletic director and senior women's administrator, told The Daily Bruin, "I would hope that we wouldn't have gotten this complaint because I don't believe women athletes are being mistreated, but we can't control complaints from coming." Says Ballatore, "UCLA got rid of us, but they are still faced with the same problem."

Title IX vs. Quotas

The tragedy of Title IX is that virtually nobody is pleased with its current results. The day after Providence announced it was killing its baseball team, the college gym filled up with angry students trying to make sense of what had happened. The women's soccer team threatened to boycott their game that day in solidarity with their fellow athletes. The girl's volleyball team warmed up in the baseball team's jerseys. Alexa Ricardo, a senior soccer player recalls that nobody agreed with axing baseball and nobody thought it was necessary. Swimmer Michelle Hackmer told The New York Times: "When the announcement was made about eliminating baseball, the women athletes were as mad about it as anyone else ....Sure we want women athletes to be treated fairly, but at this expense? I don't think this is what Title IX was supposed to be about."

Hackmer is right. Without policy changes, Title IX is likely to keep killing men's teams. The Independent Women's Forum and other critics hope that the Bush administration will return to the original intention of the provision. Since the problem is with the bureaucratic regulations and enforcement policies, not the statute itself, they are optimistic about the prospects for change. "I think [Bush] will have a huge effect," enthuses the IWF's Schuld, who notes that a clause concerning Title IX made it into the 2000 Republican platform. "This whole issue can be solved in 12 months by rewriting policy. It was created by policy, it can be undone by policy."

That's a rosy scenario. While the Bush administration may reinterpret Title IX, it will face staunch opposition from the industry that has grown up around the college sports issue. There's no reason to believe that groups invested in Title IX lawsuits will simply admit defeat and leave the legal playing field. Consider Deborah Brake, an attorney with the National Women's Law Center. Brake believes that the only problem with Title IX is that it hasn't been enforced comprehensively enough. She once told a reporter she'd like "to bring immediate law suits against as many universities as possible to force them to comply with the law." In June 1997 Brake's group filed 25 complaints with the Office for Civil Rights to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Title IX's passage and hasn't slowed down since.

In the meantime, Stephen Neal, the wrestler from California State University at Bakersfield, continues his own legal grudge match against Title IX. The law, he says, shouldn't have to hurt men to help women. In fact, he thinks cutting men's teams simply to get to proportional numbers -- to meet a quota -- is expressly forbidden by Title IX, which is about ending real, not just statistical, discrimination.

Neal is attempting a bit of legal jujitsu: He's using the text of Title IX to argue against the CAL-NOW consent decree. In February 1999 U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Coyle agreed with Neal and enjoined CSUB from further cutting the men's wrestling team. But Neal lost round two in December 1999, when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the injunction. Neal, who sees the larger context of his struggle, will be back in federal court in February, pressing his case.

"We feel we are the last stand for wrestling," says Neal. "We're going to keep fighting."

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