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True grit and Title IX

By February 17, 2011

Last week, UC Berkeley announced that it will restore three varsity teams it eliminated last fall: women’s gymnastics and lacrosse and men’s rugby. It will not, however, restore men’s baseball and gymnastics. This Solomonic solution very likely would have been worse without Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in education.

SHORT OF CASH, the university decided it had to shut down the five popular varsity sports. The furious reaction of fans made it rethink the decision, as did the prospect of a lawsuit by women, though Berkeley says that wasn’t a factor.

The prospect of restoring men’s rugby — the school has won 25 national titles since 1980 — brought in private donations, which will help support the other teams. That will avoid widening Berkeley’s considerable gender gap in sports.

Women are half of American undergraduates, but have only 43 percent of the chances to play sports. At Berkeley, last year, 53 percent of students were women versus just 40 percent of the players on varsity teams.

The march toward equality is long, and a college or university can show it is in compliance with Title IX in one of three ways: the shares of female and male athletes are roughly proportional to those enrolled; the institution meets women’s interests and abilities in sports; it is expanding opportunities for women.

RESTORING THE  women’s teams won’t eliminate the sports gender gap at Berkeley or expand opportunities for women. But it does show that the university is trying to meet women’s interests and abilities.

The benefits to young women from playing sports are well documented, in their health, psychological outlook, educational performance and future employment. Female athletes also say that sports give them a wonderful opportunity to test themselves.

When money is tight, the struggle to close the gap in athletic opportunity is even tougher. Thanks to Title IX, if something has to give, equality doesn’t go first.

— New York Times

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