Gender-Equity Issues Take Center Stage at 2 Meetings on Title IX in College Sports

April 30, 2007

Stanford, Calif. — People who follow gender-equity issues in college sports are in the middle of a busy stretch.

Over the weekend, many prominent advocates of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is marking its 35th anniversary, as well as some would-be reformers of the landmark gender-equity law, gathered here for a conference at Stanford University to debate the current state and the future of women’s — and men’s — college athletics. And starting today, many of those people are in New Orleans, along with other athletics officials, for the NCAA’s annual Gender Equity and Issues Forum, which runs through tomorrow.

At Stanford on Saturday, Judith M. Sweet, a former senior vice president at the NCAA and a strong critic of using an e-mail survey — like one introduced by the federal Office for Civil Rights in 2005 — to gauge female students’ interest in sports, faced off against Eric Pearson, executive director of the College Sports Council, an advocacy group for men’s sports that has encouraged colleges to use the survey.

Donna Lopiano, chief executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, questioned David Black, deputy assistant secretary for enforcement at the Office for Civil Rights, about what many gender-equity advocates see as the flawed design of the e-mail survey.

Several prominent athletics officials joined the discussion, including Ted Leland, a former athletics director at Stanford; Bob Bowlsby, current athletics director at Stanford; Tara VanDerveer, head coach of women’s basketball here; Sandy Barbour, athletics director at the University of California at Berkeley; and the tennis pioneer Billie Jean King.

Much of the debate focused on whether Title IX had prompted colleges to cut so-called minor sports for men, such as wrestling and swimming, or whether escalating expenses in the big-time sports of football and men’s basketball were to blame. Panelists also argued over the likelihood the NCAA could obtain a Congressional antitrust exemption to allow for, among other things, capping coaches’ salaries. Supporters of Title IX emphasized the need to strengthen the enforcement of the law’s requirements for female athletes’ opportunities and resources, and to correct other inequities, like the decline of female coaches of women’s teams.

Over the next two days in New Orleans, panelists will discuss an array of topics, including sexual harassment, homophobia, the role of Title IX coordinators on college campuses, strategies for marketing women’s sports, and recruiting and retaining female coaches. Myles Brand, the NCAA’s president, will speak at the conference tomorrow. —Sara Lipka