January 1, 2003 | Commentary on Education
Discrimination is not fair play.
Let's hope the U.S. Commission on Athletic Opportunity agrees when it issues its recommendations to the Department of Education in February.
Touring the country for the past six months, commission members have heard firsthand how the federal law known as Title IX has created de facto gender quotas in collegiate sports and has led to the elimination of men's programs.
The value of Title IX, and its role in expanding opportunities for women in education and sports programs, isn't in question. The law states that no person can be excluded from participation in programs or activities on the basis of sex.
The devil is in the regulations.
Issued in 1979, the regulations state that a college can comply with the law by meeting one of three criteria: the percentage of its female athletes mirrors the percentage of women in its student body; the school is expanding its programs to meet the interests and abilities of women; or the school is fully accommodating women's interests.
The first test - proportionality - means that if 56% of the student body is female, then 56% of the athletes must be female. During the past decade, regulators have made this virtually the only test of compliance, forcing colleges and universities to impose gender quotas on sports programs. As a result, almost 400 men's sports teams have been eliminated since the early 1990s.
But while quotas make compliance simple, that doesn't make them fair. For one thing, they don't account for levels of interest. If more boys than girls show an interest in sports - and research shows that they do - it doesn't matter. If a school expands opportunities for women and even has openings unfilled, it doesn't matter. Only meeting the quota matters.
Imagine what would happen if the government demanded that universities establish quotas for male participation in female-dominated interests such as arts, music and literature. Elimination of academic programs there would be just as devastating to women as this system has been for men.
The answer is simple: eliminate quota enforcement and allow colleges and universities to provide opportunities for all according to student interest.
Krista Kafer is an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Originally appeared in USAToday