In the ’60s and ’70s, opportunities for women in educational settings were still very limited compared to what their male peers enjoyed. This was most blatantly obvious in the spheres of high-school and collegiate athletics. In 1972, Title IX to the Education Amendments was passed to “level the playing field” in the classroom, as well as for athletic opportunities for women.
Title IX, very simply, required that “no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
In 1972, Title IX was the perfect piece of law to give women more opportunities. However, in 2010 Title IX stands as a major roadblock for many male athletes who want to participate in athletics.
Where Title IX got off track was in 1979, when the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights proposed its own interpretation of how the piece of law should be interpreted. Based on this 1979 interpretation, which was never signed into law, Title IX is used to force schools to make men and women participate in athletics in equal proportions to the male-to-female ratio of the overall enrollment at the school. So if a school is 50-50 between males and females, schools are working to make sure that varsity athletics mirror these percentages.
So schools are working to keep the athletes participating in sports in these same ratios. The net effect of this is that schools are cutting men’s athletic programs to “make the numbers work.”
Wrestling is just one sport that has been hit hard by this practice. In 1982, the NCAA had 7,914 wrestlers in 363 programs. This number has shrunk to 6,227 athletes in just 229 programs.
This is particularly difficult to understand given the growth of wrestling at the high school level. In 1970, 6,870 teams supported 226,681 male athletes. That number has risen to almost 260,000 athletes on over 10,000 teams.
When looking at those numbers, it’s hard to understand why, with such growth at the high-school level, NCAA wrestling programs would be disappearing left and right. Schools are cutting wrestling, as well as many other programs, in order to “fix” participation numbers based on enrollment statistics.
As an engineering major, I realize that some areas exist where interest doesn’t meet the distribution of males and females on campus. The number of girls in my engineering classes is miniscule compared to the number of guys in my classes. No one has told women growing up that they weren’t allowed to be engineers.
The university places no restrictions on who can participate in what major. However, if we were to apply the principles of Title IX to my major, I would most likely be kicked to the curb to “make the numbers work” and get participation numbers in engineering closer to the 55-45 female-male ratio.
An even closer example of why Title IX’s interpretation may be flawed lies in participation numbers of students in recreational sports activities. University of Minnesota wrestling coach J. Robinson, in a column published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, showed that “men outnumber women three-to-one or four-to-one on the intramural field.”
Intramural sports are interest-driven activities. No one in the intramural office tells women they can’t participate; however, the numbers still remain the same, given the completely fair practice of allowing all who want to participate play.
—George Richardson is a senior in electrical engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.