Pennsylvania University Cries ‘Title IX’ Instead of Admitting the Truth

    Fearful of potential lawsuits stemming from Title IX noncompliance, James Madison University announced last Friday that the school would cut 10 teams — seven of which are men’s teams — from its athletics program. The school’s official line was apologetic, claiming that Title IX, a federal law that requires equal opportunities be provided for men and women, was the driving force behind the cuts.

    “To eliminate such opportunities for students was absolutely difficult in the extreme,” said Lamar Daniel, a Title IX compliance consultant and former U.S. Department of Education official who spoke to JMU athletes on Sept. 29. “We would not have done it if not for Title IX.”

    But if compliance with Title IX was the only consideration, why were three women’s teams cut along with the others?

    “If it had nothing to do with funding, why not keep the women’s sports to help the ratios?” JMU archer Jessica Fasula told reporters days after the conference.

    JMU’s financial situation seems to suggest that Title IX compliance was not the only motive for the decision, or even the main one. On Oct. 2, JMU spokesman Andy Perinne said that sports programs were cut in part because of monetary issues, and in part because the teams cut didn’t have conference memberships. Maintaining a nonconference sport creates extra financial problems, he explained, since teams usually have to travel greater distances to find competitors.

    Also, because there are no organized conference championships, programs must compete on a national level in order to gain recognition. Both of these things cost money — money that some argue would be better spent on larger women’s teams like tennis, golf, swimming and diving, which will split $515,000 of the $549,000 freed by the cuts.

    “All of the money that comes from the cuts goes back into these sports,” Perrine said.

    It seems, then, that the cuts have less to do with Title IX and more to do with the difficult decision to fund some sports at the expense of others. Instead of taking the flak that would come from an unpopular decision, JMU administrators seem to be scapegoating Title IX to shield themselves from criticism.

    Blaming the law for budget cuts is not only spineless, it also seriously damages the public perception of a law that extends far beyond the realm of athletics.

    Title IX was part of the federal government’s Educational Amendments in 1972, which were enacted to create gender equality in education — including, but not limited to, sports. To comply with Title IX, a school must show that participation opportunities for men and women are roughly proportional to the school’s male and female populations; that the school has a history of program expansion; or that “the interests and abilities of [the underrepresented sex] have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program.”

    Nowhere in the text of Title IX does it say that the same amount of money be given to men’s and women’s teams. Rather, the law talks about “equality” and “proportionality.” For example, if a university has a football team and opens a women’s volleyball and crew team to meet Title IX requirements, the women’s team would not necessarily receive the same amount of money as the men’s team, but “proportional” support based on how many women the teams have, what they need and where they compete.

    And the law doesn’t apply solely to athletics. Title IX ensures equal opportunities for men and women in all programs at all educational institutions.

    Granted, rationing funds among many different teams is complicated and sometimes unpleasant — and the administrators of JMU find themselves in just such an unenviable bind. But having the tough job of making an uncomfortable decision is no reason to deflect the blame on Title IX.

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