Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - A handful of Senate Democrats said Wednesday's release of recommendations designed to improve Title IX, the law banning sexual discrimination in education, would actually set the clock back on women's athletics.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) led an attack on President Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige at a gathering that also featured Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), along with several female athletes.
"Today, in a highly flawed report, the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics is recommending to Secretary of Education Rod Paige that we slacken our efforts for equal opportunity," Daschle said. "We refuse to let the president declare a phony victory and go home. Our daughters deserve better."
Kennedy was even blunter in his criticism, accusing Bush and Paige of stacking the commission.
"The commission was designed to justify a pre-determined plan to weaken this important civil rights law," he said. "If the administration accepts its recommendations, we will be retreating from America's commitment to ensure equal opportunity for women and girls in education and athletics."
But critics of Title IX were quick to condemn Democrats and offer their own assessment of the report, which comes after six months of hearings and debate by the 15-member commission.
"It is a shame that the Democrats have decided to make this a partisan issue at the expense of thousands of young men who want to participate in sports," said Eric Pearson, chairman of the College Sports Council, a group that assists athletes and coaches in less popular sports like wrestling, golf and gymnastics.
The long-awaited report was issued Wednesday despite the objection of two commissioners - soccer star Julie Foudy and swimmer Donna de Varona. They signed onto a minority report that urges no change in the law's enforcement.
The stage now turns to the Education Department's use of the commission's recommendations. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics was established to review and clarify the 30-year-old law, but it came back with mostly minor suggestions.
Although Title IX critics said they wanted to commission to go further in offering changes, they did score a victory when the group adopted a plan to let schools survey students about their interest in athletics as one way to show compliance with the law.
The biggest issue facing the commission was the three-part test used to measure compliance with Title IX. The test is also the subject of a lawsuit brought by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, which is pending in a federal trial court.
To comply with the test, schools must provide "substantially proportionate" opportunities based on their enrollments, show a history of expanding sports opportunities to the underrepresented sex or demonstrate that the "interest and abilities" of students have been accommodated.
Supporters of interest surveys claim they would help schools comply with the final part of the test. But Foudy, a vocal opponent, said they would disproportionately hurt women.
She also criticized the suggestion that less popular men's sports have been eliminated as a result of Title IX, placing the blame instead on large football programs.
"To blame that on Title IX is a mistake," she said. "The universities decide how they want to allocate that money, and they are prioritizing their funds in different places. We believe college education should be about opportunities for all."
Title IX critics countered that argument. Charlotte Hays, editor of the conservative Women's Quarterly, a publication of the Independent Women's Forum, said colleges should use this opportunity to get rid of the quotas imposed by Title IX.
Hays also predicted Title IX critics would face a barrage of attacks following the release of the report - most of them unjustified.
"I think they're going to misrepresent us," she said. "They're going to say we're against Title IX, and we're against women having equal opportunity in sports. That's just absurd. What we're against is a system of administration that's led to quotas and lawsuits."
Hays and Pearson pointed to assertions that football programs are the root of the problem - a charge they said is absolutely false.
"In the wrestling community, we know programs have been eliminated that had nothing to do with football," Pearson said. "At Seton Hall, Coppin State, Marquette and now Southern Illinois at Edwardsville, those programs were dropped or are threatened, and they don't even have football programs."
Leo Kocher, president of the College Sports Council, said Foudy and de Varona let down women across the country when they asked the Education Department to preserve the status quo with Title IX. He said the two had carried out an "alarmist approach" as commission members.
"I don't know of any college environment - we're talking about the most liberal institutions in our nation - that is all of a sudden going to cut women's teams," Kocher said. "We're losing tens of thousands of male athletes. It's incredible how they turn this on its head and say it's the women who are going to suffer when it's the men who are incurring humungous losses."
See Earlier Stories:
Title IX Critics Pleased with Panel's Findings (Jan. 31, 2003)
Women's Groups Decry Bush for Influence on Title IX Commission (Dec. 20, 2002)
Wrestlers' Group Complains of Quotas in Fed Athletic Funding (Oct. 16, 2002)
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