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Title IX Reforms Under Review

Commission Hones Recommendations

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 30, 2003; Page D01

With protesters marching outside and distrust swirling in its ranks, a federal commission began work yesterday on its final recommendations to the Bush administration for reforming Title IX, the landmark law that fueled an exponential increase in women's sports participation over the past three decades.

The 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics began honing recommendations developed over the past six months for altering Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education programs, including athletics.

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A federal commission began work Wednesday on its final recommendations to the Bush Administration for reforming Title IX.
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The Bush administration is considering changes to Title IX.
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The most controversial proposals being considered by the panel would weaken a standard that allows colleges and universities to comply with the law by demonstrating they offer "substantially proportional" athletic opportunities to men and women. Schools also can comply with the law by demonstrating they have increased athletic opportunities for women in recent years or by proving they meet the athletic interests and abilities of their female students.

Under one proposal, colleges and universities could devote as little as 43 percent of their athletic scholarships and varsity team slots to women and still comply with the law -- even though women comprise 55.5 percent of the enrollment in the nation's four-year colleges.

That proposed recommendation is among six proposals being considered by the panel for adjusting the proportionality rule for complying with Title IX. Those suggestions, scheduled to be voted on today by the panel, are supported by some college coaches and others who say Title IX requires "quotas," forcing colleges to cut men's team to accommodate women.

But the changes are vehemently opposed by women's sports advocates, who predict they would end more than 30 years of growth in athletic opportunities for women.

"I really would hate to see us go backwards in terms of opportunities," said Siri Mullinix, a former Olympic and University of North Carolina star, who is now a goalkeeper for the Washington Freedom women's soccer team.

The meeting was closely watched by women's sports activists, who buttonholed friendly panel members and took careful notes as the commission moved through its proposed recommendations. Meantime, about 30 sign-carrying protesters including Mullinix marched outside the downtown hotel where the commissioners are meeting, to urge the panel not to change the law's enforcement.

Yesterday's session got off to a slow start as commission members seen as the strongest proponents of the current Title IX enforcement regime complained that they were being "gagged" by the commission's rules limiting debate and prohibiting "minority" views from being reflected in its final report.

The complaint prompted the commission's co-chairs, former WNBA star Cynthia Cooper and Stanford University Athletic Director Ted Leland, to issue a statement saying: "Any reasonable person who attended the commission meetings knows that our process was open, fair and inclusive. The commission was very careful to invite witnesses representing all points of view."

Once the commissioners got down to business they moved through a series of relatively uncontroversial findings and recommendations, leaving the thorniest items for today's session.

Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige appointed the panel last June to recommend ways to preserve the intent of Title IX, while addressing concerns that it is often enforced in a way that enhances female athletic opportunities at the expense of men. Once the commission completes its final recommendations, its report then will then be forwarded to Paige, who will then decide which, if any, to adopt.

Before Title IX's enactment in 1972, fewer than 30,000 women participated in intercollegiate sports programs sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association; by 2000, nearly 151,000 women were NCAA athletes. At the high school level, the number of female athletes increased from 294,000 to nearly 2.8 million during the same time period.

A lawsuit filed last year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and others brought new attention to its impact on men's sports programs. The coaches say hundreds of men's college athletic teams have been eliminated over the past decade largely because of Title IX.

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