Our problem with Title IX is not its principles, but its practicality.
Gender equity is a noble aim for society in general and college athletics in particular. It reflects our national passion for fairness, and our ever-expanding enlightenment. Trouble is, the egalitarian ideal inevitably clashes with free-market realities.
To achieve gender equity on the playing fields of America's campuses, you must first renounce capitalism and embrace socialism. You must decide that a hugely profitable football program is of no greater value to a university than a field hockey team that performs primarily for parents.
You must decide that balancing the scales of opportunity is a greater goal than balancing the books.
In upholding the philosophical tenets of Title IX, the courts have repeatedly ignored its economic implications. They have promoted the subsidy of women's sports at the expense of profitable men's programs. They are robbing Peter to pay Paulette.
When the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Brown University sex discrimination suit Monday, it struck a blow for women's sports and struck a nerve in nearly every college football coach in the country.
Football faces knife
If America's colleges are to field varsity teams proportionally representative of their student body - which is the crux of the Brown case - many men's teams must be trimmed or eliminated. Football, because of its numbers, is particularly vulnerable.
The University of Pacific, Bengal coach Bruce Coslet's alma mater, dropped football last year in part to conform to Title IX guidelines. Further cuts are forthcoming.
With each Division I school permitted 85 scholarship players, and all the coaches, equipment, travel and educational expenses that entails, big-time college football is clearly bloated. Most schools could field representative teams with 60 scholarship players and walk-ons, and all of them would reduce their expenses. (Downsizing would surely help the University of Cincinnati, whose football generated $1.6 million in revenue during the 1995-96 school year against $3.6 million in expenses.)
Yet according to a recent study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Division I football showed an overall surplus of nearly $252 million in 1995-96. The Ohio State Buckeyes cleared more than $10 million, John Cooper notwithstanding.
That same study revealed that Division I women's athletic programs operated at a $357 million deficit during the same span. This enormous earnings discrepancy should count for something, but the courts and the Congress continue to see no distinction between profit and loss where college athletics are concerned.
They have made and interpreted Title IX law as if sports on campus were played in a vacuum. Ultimately, their narrow view serves no one's purpose.
Taxing the wealthy
If colleges are forced to add additional women's teams to balance football, the cost must be borne somewhere. Either men's programs will be slashed, or both men's and women's programs will be slashed, or student fees will be raised, or more women non-athletes will be denied admittance, or football will be expected to produce more revenue with fewer resources.
The solution, once proposed by the late Texas Senator John Tower, is to exempt profitable sports programs from Title IX calculations. That way, Ohio State football could continue to serve as the cash cow for all of the University's 800 athletes. That way, when the University of Connecticut women's basketball team turned a profit, the university could be obligated to add more sports for women.
''It seems to me,'' says Harvard University's Louis Guenin, ''that you can't say favoritism is being shown to a team that pays back more than it spends.''
If anything, Title IX favors the welfare state over the wealthy. UC men's basketball showed an $800,000 surplus for the 1995-96 season compared to a $558,000 loss by UC women's basketball.
The women's team gets more scholarships.