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Sunday, June 23, 2002
Updated: June 24, 10:09 AM ET
Stop the name calling and address the issues

By Bill Curry
Special to ESPN.com

Viewed in bold relief against the backdrop of women's struggle to become fully accepted as citizens of the United States, the vicissitudes of sports participation seem small.

For a lifelong football guy I know a lot about the history of women in this country.

I happen to be married to a wonderful historian of women. She has taught me, to my amazement, that women were not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution when it was written. No thought was given to making them citizens or giving them the right to vote. The women's movement has changed most of that in its long struggle, and now the quest is for equality.

With all the obvious progress, why fuss over more chances to run, bounce a ball, or swim?

Why indeed. Because it matters -- it really matters to just about everyone. Women want what men want. Women see that togetherness, that sense of competing with all one's might, the unmitigated joy of winning and they want in. Oh yeah, one other thing: they see the cash, the power, and the glory. They want those too, just like you and me.

Those of us who have given our careers to the work of coaching young people have an enormous responsibility to our student-athletes and schools. We must progress beyond the name calling and polemics.

Well, gentlemen, they are in, and with a vengeance. We males are relearning an age-old lesson, and it goes something like this: subjugate a segment of the population, hold folks down, patronize them, ridicule them enough times and there will be serious hell to pay. The human spirit is indomitable, and it will not be held in abeyance forever. We sporting-type males are paying the price for ignoring that fundamental lesson of history.

Understand that and you've got a shot at grasping the tactics being used to implement Title IX in college sports. Men's (and occasional women's) non-revenue sports are dropping like flies. As college age women athletes finally receive their due, as their numbers swell, men's numbers diminish. Men's teams drop at schools playing football, and in some cases at those without football. In the "unintended consequences" derby this horse would demolish Secretariat, Man O' War, and Citation without drawing a deep breath.

There is heated debate over the application of something called "proportionality," one of the three interpretive devices available to colleges for compliance with Title IX. It stipulates that sports opportunities for men and women must approximate the same ratio as that of men to women on campus. Opponents of proportionality insist that it has often been applied unilaterally, when one or both of the other tests might have found the institution to be in compliance.

While there are cases on record in which that was not the case, there is a consensus among football people that cautious attorneys are advising their university clients that proportionality is the only sure "safe haven." The stakes are huge, since federal funding can be curtailed as a penalty for noncompliance.

As administrators delete men's teams, the inevitable flack begins to fly, essentially in two disparate directions. Proponents of Title IX accuse football of being the culprit, with its lavish budgets, huge coaches' salaries, and large rosters.

Football folks insist that it is Title IX proportionality that has forced the very kind of discrimination that the legislation was designed to prohibit, with men being the victims this time.

I recently participated in an ESPN Town Meeting on the subject of Title IX. As we discussed the issues, I was reminded of several important realities:

  • There are sincere, well-intentioned, informed people on both sides who are prepared to fight till the cows come home.

  • Those of us who have given our careers to the work of coaching young people have an enormous responsibility to our student-athletes and schools. We must progress beyond the name calling and polemics. Surely we can behave as mature educators, seeking common ground in the allocation of resources.

  • Finally, as football advocates we must do a much better job of articulating the need to maintain current roster size. People who did not play our sport find it very difficult to understand why this is a player-safety issue.

    We need to end this drain on our students' opportunities, and we need to do it reasonably soon. The alternative is not a pretty sight.

    Bill Curry is a college football analyst for ESPN.