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What's At Stake

Since its inception, some advocates for male sports have tried to erase Title IX gains, arguing that young women are not as interested in sports participation and that resources should go to more deserving male athletes. Although these arguments are unfounded and have been rejected under the law by every federal appellate court to consider them, the Bush Administration set up a Commission on Opportunity in Athletics three years ago to respond to these concerns. The Commission held hearings around the country and made proposals that threatened to dramatically undermine Title IX's fundamental principles of equality. In the face of an immense public outcry, the Administration backed down. Until now.

Unable to weaken the law in the light of day, the Administration has resorted to stealth tactics. In mid-March, the Department of Education quietly released a guidance, or "policy clarification," that is obviously designed to give schools a way to deny equal athletic opportunities to women. Instead of clarifying the law, the guidance reverses decades of established policy that has made Title IX a true mandate for equal opportunity.

This reversal in policy is an especially harsh blow because the nation is still far from providing true equality of opportunity. Even with the marvelous accomplishments of female athletes -- and even though women make up half or more of students in college --

  • Women still receive only about 41 percent of the sports participation opportunities
  • Women’s sports average just 36 percent of athletic operating budgets
  • Women’s sports receive only 32 percent of total recruiting expenditures.

Largely as a result of Title IX, young women's participation in athletics has increased 400 percent at the college level and 800 percent in high schools since 1972. The benefits of this increased participation have been enormous. Study after study shows that girls who participate in sports are less likely to smoke, use drugs or engage in other risky activities, and that they get better grades. Sports participation decreases women's chances of developing heart disease, osteoporosis and other health-related problems later in life -- to say nothing of the scholarships, career opportunities and just plain fun that participation in sports can bring.

It's a travesty that the Department of Education has now taken steps to erase these gains and close doors for women and girls that their mothers and fathers fought so hard to open all over the country.