Colleges and universities would be allowed to limit the number of scholarships awarded to female athletes without regard to enrollment under the most controversial recommendation being considered by a national commission studying reform of Title IX, the landmark law that bans sex discrimination in collegiate sports.
Under the proposal, which is among two dozen recommendations the panel is studying, schools could devote as little as 43% of their athletic scholarships to women and still comply with the law -- even though women currently make up 55% of the enrollment in the nation's four-year colleges.
The proposals, obtained by the Washington Post, are the first indication of the Bush administration's plans for changing Title IX, which is widely credited with increasing female participation in collegiate sports over the past three decades.
Since its passage in 1972, Title IX has never included any fixed numerical limits. Instead, schools comply with the law by ensuring that the percentage of male and female athletes is about equal to the ratio of men and women in their student bodies. Schools also can comply by demonstrating a history of expanding sports opportunities for women or by showing they are meeting female students' interests and abilities in sports.
The new recommendation would not prevent a school from awarding more than 43% of the spots on its sports teams to women. But the prospect of a numerical limit on the number of scholarships and other athletic opportunities that a college would be required to offer women was immediately condemned by women's sports advocates. The proposal would end more than 30 years of growth in women's collegiate athletic opportunities, they said.
"[Any] change would violate fundamental notions of civil rights law," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president of the National Women's Law Center, which is part of a coalition of groups resisting changes to Title IX regulations. "It would enshrine the principle that providing something less than equal opportunity can be treated as equal opportunity without further expla- nation."
The recommendations being considered by the Secretary of Education's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics are aimed preserving the intent of Title IX, while addressing concerns that it is often enforced in a way that enhances female athletic opportunities at the expense of men.
The commission is scheduled to hold a two-day meeting in Washington next week to vote on the draft recommendations, which will then be forwarded to Education Secretary Roderick Paige. Paige will then decide which, if any, to adopt.