College sports in jeopardy

A federal commission was supposed to settle the college sports controversy created by Title IX–the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in education. Instead, the panel punted. It couldn’t even bring itself to recommend minor fixes in the statute, which is being misused far and wide to assassinate men’s athletics programs.

The decision now belongs to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige. Thanks to the gutless commission, he must figure out how to reinterpret Title IX to take men’s sports off the endangered species list.

Congress passed Title IX to bar sex bias in schools that receive federal money. That includes just about every U.S. college. Over time, the law has been read to cover sports as well as academics. But what sounded good in theory has become absurd in practice.

In an effort to achieve so-called gender equality, quota systems–which the lawmakers hadn’t intended–have become the rule. Schools strive to have the gender ratio of student athletes reflect that of the general enrollment.

Nationally, 56 percent of college students are women. Therefore, 56 percent of the athletes should be women? Strict proportionality says yes, even if it means denying opportunity to men. Which is exactly what has been happening. Men’s teams are being axed. The prime victims: wrestling, track, swimming and gymnastics.

Last month, St. John’s University in Queens ended its men’s programs in indoor and outdoor track, cross-country, swimming and football. Did it add programs for women? No. It also cut women’s swimming. The idea was not to offer more opportunity for women, but to change the ratio of women to men on the college teams. This is all about numbers. The athletics percentages used to be 35 percent female, 65 percent male. Now they will be 58 percent female, 42 percent male, which matches St. John’s enrollment figures.

Lest you think the proportionality scheme has anything to do with money, note that Marquette University in Milwaukee had a privately funded wrestling squad, but the program still had to go, simply because there were too many men playing sports at Marquette.

Faced with this kind of nonsense, a group of wrestling coaches sued, which is what prompted Paige to appoint the commission in June. But the panel has proved virtually worthless, and the problem is back on the secretary’s desk.

We say “virtually” because the commission did bring itself to recommend that the feds tell schools that dropping men’s teams isn’t the way to achieve equity. That’s just what St. John’s did and what other schools are doing. For example: If 500 men turn out for sports, but only 200 women do, colleges will slash the men’s programs by 300 students. That’s not equality, it’s stupidity.

Shouldn’t maximizing opportunity for all students, regardless of gender, be the goal?

Paige must save men’s collegiate sports. The ball is in his court.