Thursday, August 23, 2007

Business As Usual

The California State Senate is leading the latest crusade to excoriate the state's public universities for not being in compliance with Title IX, which governs gender equity in collegiate athletics.

I worked for the California State University system's Office of Governmental Affairs for 13 years, and because it quickly became apparent when I was hired that I was the biggest sports fan among the staff, the college sports/athletics assignment was given to me. Title IX was a huge issue for CSU at the time, because the California branch of the National Organization of Women had sued the system for non-compliance. In a decision that was correct but controversial, then-Chancellor Barry Munitz agreed that CSU would enter into a Consent Decree, stipulating that after a period of several years (If I recall, it was somewhere between 5 and 7), CSU campuses would achieve certain benchmarks in demonstrating progress towards achieving gender equity in athletics in a wide variety of categories, including opportunities for student athletes, funding for facilities, salaries for coaches, etc. When the term of the Consent Decree was completed, both sides agreed that its requirements had been met.

In my mind, CSU was way ahead of the game in terms of meeting Title IX requirements, both then and now. At the same time, it didn't take long for me to realize that this was one of the classic "loser" issues of all time, because no matter what CSU did, it was going to be lambasted by a significant constituency. If campuses were unable to achieve requirements because there was simply insufficient interest in women's athletics (which was and probably still is the case at some campuses), Democrats were outraged. And if the only thing that some campuses could do to achieve gender equity was to cut men's programs such as football or wrestling, Republican members (and many alumni) were outraged.

The 900-pound gorilla, as one of my colleagues called it at the time, is men's football. For a campus where men's football rules, such as Fresno State, it becomes next to impossible to achieve many of Title IX's requirements. And the sad fact of the matter is that, until and unless there is equivalent interest in women's athletics, interest that generates sufficient revenue to justify the existence of the programs in the first place, football (and at some schools, basketball) is always going to skew the statistics.

There's no doubt that Title IX is sound public policy, as well as the right thing to do. But at least as often as not, public universities (at least those in California) get little credit (and a raw deal) from state policymakers for their efforts.

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