The Right Coast

September 04, 2004
Olympic Wrestling and other Title IX issues
By Gail Heriot

I’m probably not the right person to make this argument, since I am a well-known sneerer at organized sports, but I nevertheless think this is true: The United States’ disappointing showing in wrestling at the Athens O1ympics is a likely result of Title IX.

Title IX requires (with a few exceptions) that schools and colleges that receive federal support not discriminate on the basis of sex. That’s fine and good. But the regulations that implement the statute are something else again. They put schools and colleges under nearly irresistible pressure to ensure that actual participation in athletic activities is equal, even if women and girls have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the playing field and men and boys have to dragged off. That’s not so good. And while the Bush Administration has made some valient efforts to change this, for the most part these efforts haven’t yet paid off.

As a result of these long-standing regulations, schools and colleges have had to cancel many sports programs for males and institute more sports programs for females. Men’s swimming and men’s diving programs have been hard hit, but no program has been hit harder than men’s wrestling, which has basically been decimated as a college sport. These college programs are the training ground for future Olympic teams, as Dan Gable discusses in the Weekly Standard (and elsewhere). Without such programs at the college level, Americans don’t win medals at the O1ympics in wrestling.

Meanwhile, more money is spent on sports programs for women and girls, when many of the supposed beneficiaries would prefer that expenditures be made on other kinds of extracurricular activities like chorus, drama club, foreign language club, or community service club, all of which tend to disproportionately attract women and girls. (Ah, now I may be getting to the part that really bothers me ....) When girls’ badminton team gets new uniforms, a travel budget, and a stipend for both a coach and an assistant coach, something’s got to give. If it’s not the boys’ team’s budget, it's probably the drama club’s budget or something similar.

How did all this happen? Years ago, the Department of Education decided to ignore a simple fact: For whatever reason, the average male likes playing with small-, large-, and medium-sized spherical objects more than the average female does. It’s not that females don’t like sports, they do. And given the opportunity, many will happily participate. But the average female does not rank sports as high a priority as the average male does. The only way to get proportionality is to start twisting arms (and budgets).

If a school finds that proportionally more males than females participating in its organized athletics, it must prove that it has taken all appropriate measures to attract the females. Sometimes they do so by expanding athletic opportunities for females to the point that no sane person could argue that women are getting fewer choices than they should get, and the money is taken from other non-athletic programs, like chorus and drama club. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is simply cut back on programs aimed at males, although the Bush Administration has tried to discourage this. Neither strategy seems to be a good thing.

It’s probably true that, as a result of these regulations, more women and girls participate in organized sports than would otherwise have. But at what cost? Other extracurricular activities must inevitably suffer. There’s only so much money and so much time in a day. What not let the students choose instead of letting the Department of Education choose for them?

This is not an insignificant issue. At schools serving high-risk students, the cancellation of a boys’ sports program may cause some boys to drop out of school and eventually out of society. Meanwhile, a girls’ hockey team may be the last thing on the minds of the girls. They might prefer the school to fund a daycare program, so their infant children can be cared for while they attend classes. Or they might prefer a madrigal choir. Shouldn’t schools have the flexibility to respond to their desires?