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College Sports Council s Pearson testifies to Knight Commission calling for Title IX reform

By Gary Abbott | Jan. 25, 2007, 2:39 p.m. (ET)
WASHINGTON, DC - On Monday, January 22, the College Sports Council's Chairman, Eric Pearson, testified before the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics calling for changes in Title IX enforcement that "empower students with a voice to push back against the forces that relentlessly seek to limit participation."

Addressing the topic of "Gender Equity and College Sports 35 Years After Title IX," Pearson linked current enforcement of Title IX with fostering a climate of privilege and exclusivity among athletes on college campuses.

"Any system that incentivizes administrators to decrease student participation will likely over time serve to segregate athletes from the rest of the student body," Pearson said. "Squad quotas contribute to the divide between the student body and athletes by making the experience less accessible to the non-elite student athletes."

Pearson called for reform of Title IX regulations to encourage schools to develop more broad-based athletic programs and give student-athletes a voice in determining athletic opportunities.

"Currently, the regulations only protect the interest of the underrepresented gender, in other words, the female athletes," Pearson testified. "The CSC recommends that male students also be included in any and all measurements of interest. Through regular student surveys, the athletes would be given a voice of record, and a degree of influence in the process that determines a school's sports sponsorship. Reforming prong three of Title IX will create incentives to not only retain programs, but also to add new teams."

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TEXT OF PEARSON'S ADDRESS

Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
January 22, 2007, Washington, DC
Comments by Eric Pearson, Chairman, College Sports Council

Gender Equity and College Sports, 35 years after Title IX

I would like to thank the Knight Foundation Commission for giving me this opportunity to speak today, and share with you the College Sports Council's concerns about America's intercollegiate sports system.

The CSC is a national coalition of coaches, athletes, parents, and former athletes founded in 2002. The majority of our members are involved with the traditional Olympic sports of track and field, swimming, wrestling, and gymnastics. We are devoted to the preservation and promotion of the student athlete experience. We place the highest value on the opportunity to participate in sports and we measure the overall state of health of our college sports system by the total number of participants involved. In our view, the more students that get to play, the better.

Generations of Americans have benefited from and continue to confirm the value of the student athlete experience. However, the CSC has great concern about the future of this venerable old tradition that combines the experiences of the academic with the athletic.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing an unrelenting decimation of men's sports programs, and a distressing new trend to eliminate small roster women's teams as well. The underlying cause of this erosion is a powerful incentive to decrease the numbers of participants that is placed on those who oversee intercollegiate sports.

I have been invited here today to discuss Title IX, and its impact on collegiate sports. The CSC fully supports the spirit of Title IX. We want all students, male and female, of all body types- big and small, lean and stout, to have the opportunity to play sports. We know that it is not just the superstars that can benefit from the educational experience found in athletic competition. As far as Title IX is concerned, the CSC takes issue only with how it has been regulated, or more precisely, the proportionality prong of the three-part test.

Since 1996, proportionality has been recognized as the safe harbor for complying with Title IX. Every time someone mentions that a school is out of compliance, proportionality is almost always referenced as the measure of non-compliance.

Proportionality creates pressure to shrink participation rates. A school is deemed to be in compliance with proportionality if the gender ratio of its intercollegiate athletes mirrors its undergraduate student enrollment. In most athletic departments male athletes are the majority, yet most schools have a student body that is majority female, hence the dilemma.

Athletic administrators are often praised for pursuing a 'gender equity' plan even if it merely consists of the elimination of teams and limitation of men's squad sizes. The current environment of gender equity compliance creates incentives to drive students away from athletic programs, shrink squad sizes, and drop teams entirely.

This is unfortunate in many ways. The CSC believes that schools that provide the most programs for their athletes are the most likely to create athletic programs that are more integrated into the academic life of a school. The more teams a school sponsors the more participants it will have, and the less likely it will foster an atmosphere of privilege and exclusivity inside its athletic department. Therefore, any system that incentivizes administrators to decrease student participation will likely over time serve to segregate athletes from the rest of the student body.

Under pressure to comply with the quantitative standards of Title IX, administrators have developed notorious coping strategies, such as the practice commonly referred to as 'roster management.' This system is designed to reduce the number of athletes on men's teams. It is important to understand that these limits are created by administrators, not by the coaches of these teams. In most sports, men's coaches prefer to be inclusive, allowing participation to all who want to try out as long as they respect the rules of the program.

Administrators like to justify roster management by saying that they are managing their resources by managing the squad sizes. But this practice is not, by any means, gender neutral. It is not uncommon to see a men's swimming or track team given strict limits, while their female counterparts are asked to inflate their rosters. Women's coaches don't like this practice either, because it interferes with the control that they have over their teams, especially with the problem athletes who they'd prefer to cut.

Squad quotas contribute to the divide between the student body and athletes by making the experience less accessible to the non-elite student athletes. In many ways the walk -on athletes are the ones who keep the system more honest, because their desire to participate demonstrates that everyone can benefit from sports if they are willing to work hard and abide by the team rules.

Title IX was never intended to limit participation. When you speak with coaches of women's teams they will tell you that they want to have equal access to facilities, equivalent funding for their teams, good locker rooms, uniforms, and sufficient travel budgets. They are not interested in how many players are on the men's rosters, and they certainly don't want to see teams eliminated.

We believe that reform of Title IX can go hand in hand with ongoing efforts to reintegrate athletics into the cultural fabric of our college campuses. The struggle to maintain academic integrity in college sports will be best served by pushing for more broad based athletic departments, rather than following the current fashion of narrowing down opportunities to play sports.

In the present system, the athletes have no real power over the decisions that impact the very existence of their programs. Just look at the protests that continue on campuses across the country where sports teams have been dropped. Fresno State, Rutgers, and James Madison University have all recently dropped programs despite the outcries of students who don't want to see athletic teams terminated. If we are sincere about making real changes to improve the state of collegiate sports, we need to find ways to empower students with a voice to push back against the forces that relentlessly seek to limit participation.

With slight modification, a potential solution may be found in the third prong of Title IX's three-part test, which already has an interest and abilities component. Currently, the regulations only protect the interest of the underrepresented gender, in other words, the female athletes. The CSC recommends that male students also be included in any and all measurements of interest. Through regular student surveys, the athletes would be given a voice of record, and a degree of influence in the process that determines a school's sports sponsorship. Reforming prong three of Title IX will create incentives to not only retain programs, but also to add new teams.

The current system of Title IX enforcement is unsustainable. If left unchanged, we will continue to see the widespread elimination of teams. To compound the problem we are seeing a growing disparity between male and female enrollment. Many more women are enrolling in college than men, making it virtually impossible to achieve proportionality without eliminating all but a few sports for men. Proportionality does not necessarily protect women's teams either. More schools are now dropping multiple teams for both men and women. The fact is that proportionality can be more easily managed with fewer overall teams.

In closing, I'd like to say that the dialogue that we are having today is extremely important if we are to work towards a solution to the Title IX problem. Unfortunately, we often look at this issue through a lens focused on the past. It's been 35 years since Title IX was passed into law, and the environment of today's college campus is very different from the era of the 1970's. Female undergraduate enrollment now surpasses male enrollment, and today NCAA schools sponsor over 1,000 more teams for women than they do for men.

Much of the discussion about the collegiate sports system has focused on change emanating from the leaders of our universities, or reforming from the top down. In order foster a truly comprehensive campaign for change, we also need to consider ways to reform from the bottom up. Empowering the students by systematically measuring their interests will prove to be a crucial step towards the reintegration of athletics into the culture of our universities, and help stop the disintegration caused by proportionality.

Again, I thank you for including the CSC in this very important dialogue.

Eric Pearson
Chairman
College Sports Council
P.O. Box 53356
Washington, DC 20009
www.collegesportscouncil.org
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