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June 20, 2012

Time hasn’t ended legal furor over Title IX

(Continued)

The ‘three-prong’ test

Initially, college officials thought Title IX aimed to achieve equality in admissions for women, especially in the medical and law schools. But athletic directors soon realized the law was also mandating equal spending on athletic benefits, opportunities and scholarships. That was alarming.

At Michigan, where Pollick was witnessing the struggle first-hand, athletic director Don Canham echoed the dire warnings of many of his colleagues: "I do not see how intercollegiate athletics or any form of a scholarship program can continue as we know it," he wrote.

To alleviate the angst, the U.S. Department of Education, charged with enforcing the law, came up with a three-prong Title IX compliance test. It was complicated but charitable. Schools had to meet only one of the guidelines.

They could meet the law's requirements by showing that the number of female athletes was proportional to overall female enrollment; or by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women athletes; or, failing either of those options, proving that they were meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their female students.

Critics complain the last two options have become so difficult to prove, that schools are going with the first option – the proportionality rule. And that, they say, amounts to a quota system that has pushed some schools into eliminating men’s teams rather than expanding sports for women.

Eric Pearson, chairman of the American Sports Council advocacy group, argues that Title IX has led to the "destruction of sports opportunities at the college level." Last year, the council filed a lawsuit seeking to keep Title IX from being applied to high schools, arguing it violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it favored female athletes. The lawsuit, like others similar to it, was dismissed.

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