What James Madison University is doing to its varsity athletic programs is a travesty. But what Washington is doing to JMU is even worse.
JMU’s board of visitors has voted to kill off 10 varsity sports programs — seven for men and three for women — as of July 1. The sports, from archery to track to fencing, are not the big-time, big-bucks programs that invite so much corruption at schools large and small. Rather, they represent college athletics as it should be: an endeavor devoted to excellence for its own sake. Unfortunately, because of idiotic bureaucratic edicts from D.C., they will have to go.
JMU says it is making the changes to comply with Title IX, but that is not quite right. The school is making the changes to comply with perverted interpretations of Title IX. Those interpretations, which rely on a strange view of the notion of proportionality, demand that athletic opportunities for male and female students reflect the proportion of male and female students enrolled, without any recognition of life in the real world.
In the real world, lower percentages of women than men are interested in sports. (Think about it: How many women’s magazines carry college football previews or betting-pool grids for the NCAA playoffs?) As a result, schools across the country have had to shut down thriving men’s teams to maintain the false parity Title IX now effectively demands. According to the General Accounting Office, Title IX has forced schools to kill off more than 170 wrestling programs, 80 tennis teams, 70 gymnastics teams, and 45 track teams — all men’s. How does that help women?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The original legislation, modeled after the Civil Rights Act, was passed to guarantee equal opportunity in education generally. It reads: “No person in the United States 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.”
The law does not mandate quotas. In fact, it specifically forbids them: “Nothing [in the law] shall be interpreted to require any educational institution to grant preferential or disparate treatment to the members of one sex on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons of that sex participating in or receiving the benefits of any federally supported program or activity, in comparison with the total number or percentage of persons of that sex in any community, State, section, or other area.”
However, policy interpretations by unelected bureaucrats and federal court rulings that have raised those interpretations to the level of holy writ have turned Title IX into a program that does not so much expand opportunities for women as it denies opportunities to men.
It’s true that Title IX has opened new vistas for athletically inclined women. The number of girls who play highschool sports has grown from about 300,000 to about 3 million. But that does not mean young women have as much interest in sports as young men do. If they did, then to achieve parity schools would not have to shut down men’s programs. They could simply offer more sports for women, and equal numbers of women would show up for tryouts.
But that doesn’t happen. The resulting travesty: A law passed to prevent discrimination in education on the basis of sex now forces colleges such as JMU to shut down men’s sports teams because they are men’s teams. It’s time for Congress to revisit the statute so schools don’t have to treat sports programs like a zero-sum game.