Title IX runs afoul on the field

    The University of Oregon's decision to reshape its competitive sports offerings was good news for a couple of teams, but bad news for collegiate athletics in general and Title IX proponents in particular.

    The Ducks announced on July 13 that they would add baseball and competitive cheerleading to their roster of varsity sports and drop wrestling. We, like many others, are happy to see UO add baseball, curious about the cheerleading decision and disappointed by Duck wrestling's demise.

    Despite Eugene's wet spring weather, adding baseball seems a no-brainer. The sport has gained visibility at the collegiate national level and absolutely soared in Oregon in the wake of Oregon State's back-to-back national championships. (The Duck's athletic hierarchy says it's a coincidence that the announcement follows on the heels of OSU's successes, but we have our doubts.)

    We take no issue with the idea that competitive cheerleading requires considerable athletic ability. But it's curious to a lot of folks, including us, that the university bypassed gymnastics, swimming and crew — all well-established women's collegiate sports — and instead added cheerleading, for which there is exactly one other similar Division I team in the nation.

    There is no mystery about the demise of wrestling, which has again been victimized by a federal law that was intended to increase women's participation in sport, but instead often reduces men's in a process that only a bean counter could defend.

    Title IX has served a tremendous purpose in encouraging women's participation in sports at all levels. Soccer fields, basketball courts and softball diamonds fairly burst with female teams and women athletes have taken their place among the sports stars that kids look up to. That's a good thing.

    But the demise of wrestling at a number of schools and the restrictions put on other men's sports is not good, for the affected athletes nor the proponents of Title IX. Creating a more level playing field for women by denying opportunity to men is not a solution that serves anyone well.

    Title IX bans sex discrimination for schools that receive federal money. For a school to prove it is meeting the requirement, it must either show that female sports participation is proportionate to male participation, based on student enrollment or that it is making a concerted effort to improve participation opportunities for females.

    The size of football teams creates a hurdle for schools to show that they are offering equal opportunity to women, since there is no female sport that requires the large number of athletes that take to the football field.

    So colleges have been busy adding women's teams — again, a good thing — and cutting men's teams — a bad thing — to balance the spread sheets.

    In addition to the thousands of male athletes who have lost the opportunity to compete for college teams, the big loser is Title IX, which now is seen by much of the public as a warped looking glass that makes women's sports bigger by making men's sports smaller.

    It's time for the NCAA, and perhaps Congress, to find a better way for colleges and universities to implement a well-intentioned law that has strayed out of bounds.

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