Getting a fair shot

New survey option for Title IX compliance creates mixed reactions
Tuesday, May 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:07 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Internet has opened new doors for today’s technology-savvy college students.

A new option for measuring equality in sports, however, has people concerned the Internet could close doors for female athletes. Others say it could help re-evaluate the division of money in college athletics.

In a letter posted online March 18, the U.S. Department of Education announced that colleges can comply with Title IX by giving an online survey to all undergraduate students or to the underrepresented gender, usually women, to determine interest levels in sports. Athletic departments could then add sports teams or allocate funds based on this perceived interest.

Shana Porteen, a doctoral student who teaches Sociology of Sport at MU, said Title IX has contributed to a gender overhaul in the sports world. Women’s participation has increased around 1,000 percent at the high school level and 500 percent in intercollegiate sports since the passage of Title IX in 1972.

“That sure is saying something,” she said. “For some, that’s saying too much.”

Title IX, legislation prohibiting sexual discrimination in federally funded institutions, sparks controversy in college athletics, where equality standards are complicated by the disparate nature of different sports.

Sarah Reesman, MU associate athletic director and senior women administrator, said that MU has no plan to implement the surveys but that could change depending on the recommendations of a private consultant the Athletic Department hires to check Title IX compliance.

Porteen said she is extremely concerned about the effects this change to Title IX might have on funding and opportunities for women in sports. She said using online surveys to judge compliance with Title IX is a mistake because of the power and responsibility it forces on students.

“Surveying the general population is extremely dangerous,” she said. “Most people are ignorant of what Title IX is, how it works, what it does. They don’t follow women’s sports and so believe that there already is equality.”

Economic factors

Kent Ford, who is on the board of the Tiger Quarterback Club, hasn’t heard anything about the proposed changes but said that these surveys sound like they will return some logic to the sports funding equation. He said schools need to have some flexibility in allocating money.

“The big-business sports, those that make money and fund other sports, and the minor sports, those that are subsidized by other sports, should have separate systems of rules,” he said. “Title IX makes a gender issue out of an economic one, which really screws things up.”

MU uses the third part in the government’s three-prong test, student interest, to comply with Title IX. Reesman said MU looks at a number of things to determine interest, such as Missouri students’ involvement in club sports and high school championships offered in the state.

“We look at the broader picture of what sports have high interest and high ability in our constituent area,” she said.

Reesman said MU is waiting for the report from a recent review by the compliance consultant. She expects MU to be in full compliance and perhaps a little ahead in some areas, like scholarships for female athletes. She said it is too soon to guage the effectiveness of these surveys as a way to make decisions.

“If we give women at MU a survey about field hockey, there probably won’t be very much interest because we don’t offer that sport, and interested players will have gone to another school,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll get a true sense of the interests of prospective students in our area.”

Reesman would like to see aspects of Title IX improved, such as more advising to athletic departments and fair funding to all sports.

Porteen would change Title IX to be enforced more consistently.

“I truly feel that if we are going to have Title IX, it needs to have a better set of teeth,” she said. “The sanctions are too lenient, and there’s no motivation for universities to fully comply. It has to be more than a secondary ideology — women deserve opportunities in all aspects of sports.”

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