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Never mind on that Title IX spam – er survey – rule. But what next?

April 21, 2010 – 3:52 PM

By Laura Pappano

Never mind. That was message in Tuesday’s “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

Never mind about that 2005 policy saying it was OK for colleges to meet a Title IX compliance prong gauging female interest in sports by sending out internet spam – er, I mean, surveys.

With the announcement staged at George Washington University’s basketball arena, VP Joe Biden gushed about all the female athletes related to him (including a granddaughter who plays on a boy’s team).

For some, this was a feel-good event. For others, it was a relief. And yep, for some cranks who feel that sports is always a zero sum game in which what’s good for women is bad for men, it was deeply disappointing. Sorry.

But before those of us committed to gender equity in sports get all celebration-y, let’s understand a few things. First, Title IX is now not now well-enforced and changing the rules doesn’t necessarily change the federal effort. Second, if this policy change does signal a shift in federal enforcement and, if as Biden suggested “Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer,” then we need to have another conversation.

That conversation – always dangerous to propose given fringe opposition to the law – must be about what Title IX does – and does not – accomplish and whether we should change it to more accurately reflect the goal of gender equity in sport.

Title IX, after all, does not demand equality. There are realities in high school and college sports today that did not exist in 1972. Some of these keep women’s teams from enjoying the same level of institutional support as men’s teams.

Is it, for example, fair to schedule women’s basketball games on, say Monday or Wednesday, and keep Friday and Saturday nights for men’s games?

Is it in the spirit of Title IX to promote men’s basketball as worthy of luxury boxes, multi-tiered seating levels, and club memberships – when the same school’s women’s team is general admission only?

(Good thing the announcement was at GW and not Georgetown, where an under-promoted women’s basketball team plays in the old gym while the men’s team is the focus of campus hoopla when the Hoyas play at the NBA-like Verizon Center; dollars spent per athlete on the men’s team is $93,737; on the women’s team, it’s $28,013).

Good move repealing that survey allowance, Obama administration. But this is just the first half.

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