To: The Secretary’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics
From: George Block, Asst. Dir. of Athletics, Northside I.S.D.
The testimony to the Commission, at least as covered in the general media, has been very thorough and balanced, however I would like to add a couple of issues that I think have been overlooked and perhaps offer a couple of pieces to you that can help you solve this puzzle. More important, I would ask that the members of this Commission shift their vision to a problem much greater than sports. That problem is the status of boys in our society today.
The problems facing boys in 2002 are much worse than the problems facing girls in 1972, but there is no national outcry, no national sense of crisis. The crisis is real, as the data presented to this Commission have shown, but athletics is only the “canary in the mineshaft.” The “solution” will have to encompass much more than sports.
The “Myth” of Title IX
As the Commission has heard, Title IX really wasn’t enforced (or enforceable) prior to 1992, however the largest percentage growth in women’s sports occurred between 1972 and 1982. It had nothing to do with Title IX. As Lynn Hickey, the Director of Athletics at the University of Texas in San Antonio said, “It became culturally acceptable for girls to do sports.” Until the children of the baby-boomers came along it was not culturally acceptable. The “boomers” created opportunities for their daughters – without taking any away from their sons.
The massive effect of Title IX is a myth. The explosion of women’s sports took place long before anyone ever heard of Title IX and it didn’t take place at the collegiate level. High school and club sports lead the way, and it was driven by interest, not numbers.
Senator John Tower was right. As he predicted, once it became a numbers racket, Title IX has seriously hurt men’s sports. Abolishing over 350 teams is serious damage. This unintended consequence has caused the defenders of the status quo to turn to distortions and outright lies in building their sound bites.
The (false) argument is to “trim the fat” in the football and basketball programs instead of cutting men’s sports. Football and basketball were the first sports cut! Football and basketball both lost 20% of their scholarships and assistant coaches in the very first round of cuts. Now, “fat-trimming” would do no good whatsoever!
The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Enforcement has said that the only “safe haven” (meaning protection from law suit) is “strict proportionality.” In other words, you can save the men’s track team by cutting the men’s basketball team!
The defenders of the status quo also don’t mind mixing apples and oranges in order to confuse the debate. They gripe about the “humongous” football programs gobbling up all the money, but it is only the humongous football programs that make money and only the humongous football programs that can afford Title IX compliance! Dr. Lopiano even uses the University of Texas as her example of “doing it right.”
What the University of Texas did was start a women’s sport whose squad size could closely approximate football’s. They started crew. Crew? Can we list all of the great high school crew teams in Texas? Perhaps it would be fairer to rank all of the great age group girl’s crew teams in the state? Starting crew met the proportionality needs of Title IX, but it clearly did nothing to serve families in Texas.
“Families” gets much closer to the issue. An unintended consequence of the focus on one sex is a lack of awareness of basic family dynamics. Dr. Lopiano talks about “soccer moms” being upset with changes to Title IX. I think she will be surprised to find just how many soccer moms will demand changes in Title IX. Soccer moms have sons, too. They are pleased that their daughters can play soccer at the University of Texas, but horrified to find out that there is no place for their sons in the entire Big 12 Conference… due to Title IX.
Dr. Lopiano asked if “it would be right if you had a daughter or a son in a wheelchair, and a school… said they couldn’t build a ramp to accommodate them?” Her exemplary school built the ramp for my daughter, but took the wheelchair away from my son. Is that “right”?
The Real Crisis
I have been involved with swimming for most of my life. We were the first 100% co-ed sport, shortly after World War II, then exploding after Korea. I grew up swimming with, and being regularly beaten by, girls. As a coach, I always coached both boys and girls together.
In the late 70’s, swimming was about 60:40, boys:girls. Dance team and cheerleading were still the big draws. Within 15 years, the percentages had reversed. I was concerned that I had done something to make my team inhospitable to boys. Soon, I learned that it was not my team;it was my sport. Nation-wide, swimming percentages were 40:60. I spent time trying to understand what was wrong with my sport.
Then I heard a presentation by Vanessa Richey, the former University of Texas All-American, at that time working for the United States Olympic Committee. Her presentation covered participation in Olympic sports in San Antonio. One statistic jumped out at me. Countywide, the participation percentages were 60% girls, 40% boys.
Serendipitously, a few days later I was sitting in a Strategic Planning session at Palo Alto College. Part of that presentation included data on enrollment in higher education in Bexar County… again 60:40. This has nothing to do with sports and it is much bigger than Title IX. The boys in our country aren’t playing sports, but they are also not going on to higher education. The ramifications of that are huge.
What are the economic implications of boys reducing their lifetime earning potential by 50%? What are the societal implications of college-educated women not having an available pool of college educated men to marry? What are the international economic competitive implications for our nation when boys choose to be under-educated? As both a society and a nation, we know that education is the strategic and personal key to success. Where is the national “Title IX for boys”?
Pieces to the Puzzle
I would never presume to tell this Commission how to “solve” this problem, but I do think I can offer some pieces to your puzzle.
Start with a principle. A Federal law or regulation should never reduce opportunity for anyone. The entire premise of Title IX was to expand opportunity. We must abandon the mind-set of “fighting over table scraps” and concentrate on “growing the pie.”
Compliance must never be attained by reduction in opportunities.
Football should carry its weight. Instead of vindictively cutting football, we should insist that football carry its weight. The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament has both created unprecedented resources for collegiate athletics and spread them more equitably than ever before. An NCAA Football playoff would do the same.
Ending the regular season in November and beginning the playoffs after Christmas would protect the academic integrity of final exams, while still allowing a 32-team field to be completed prior to the Super Bowl.
It is speculated that the current bowl system provides more wealth than a playoff system would. That is speculation. What is not speculation is that a playoff system would distribute those resources more equitably than the current system and would give more schools the resources to comply with Title IX.
Base real decisions on real data. Although “interest” has been a critical underpinning of Title IX since its inception, the data on actual participation, the best measure of interest, have been widely ignored and instead replaced with surveys, speculation, and politics.
Every text on coaching and teaching women points out the obvious – men and women are different. One of the most frequently mentioned differences is that, in general, men are more “competitive,” while women are more “cooperative.” This is demonstrated in their selection of sports. As much as it pains me, large numbers of girls who participated in club sports such as swimming and soccer in elementary and middle school select Dance Team as their high school “sport.”
Although the AAU has a long history with Team Aerobic Dance, including a huge National Championship each year, most of the season is comprised of “performances,” leading up to a final “competition.” The regulators of Title IX chose not to count “performance,” only “competition.” For this reason, the most frequently selected activity among women and girls – aerobics – has been excluded from consideration for Title IX compliance!
Our oldest national professional sports association is the American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), but Title IX compliance eliminates dance from consideration. Although I would much prefer to see these girls coming out for swimming, it is wrong to relegate their activity selection to “second-class” status.
Many girls select “performance” activities instead of “competitive” activities. We know girls are different, but we still limit their choices to “male” selections. A bizarre and unintended consequence of ignoring real participation data has been the rush to develop “crew” or “rowing” teams, in spite of the near total lack of participation in these sports at the high school or club level! When the one activity, in which girls freely participate, in numbers similar to football, is excluded, another had to be created out of thin air!
Title IX must allow girls to be different. We have to “count” performance activities along with competitive activities.
Focus on the big picture. The big picture is the crisis in American boys. Changes in athletics policies can’t “solve” the problem, but they can contribute to the solution. We need to encourage experiments in single-sex education at the elementary, middle and high school levels. At the same time, Title IX shouldn’t hamper colleges and universities that are making the transition from single-sex institutions to co-educational institutions.
We need to encourage and facilitate the development of athletics facilities by schools, park districts and non-profits. Removing the obstacles to facility development would help meet the growing needs of girls, while bringing boys back from gangs to sports teams.
Dr. Lopiano is right. There is “an elephant standing in the middle of the room and nobody wants to talk about it.” The elephant is America’s boys, the sons of soccer moms.
What have we done to our boys? Can’t we provide opportunities for our daughters, without taking them from our sons?
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- Hard copy to: Secretary’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics
Office of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics
US Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave SW, Room 3060
Washington, DC 20202