An Ivy League Voice Goes Off Script on Title IX

Back on November 12, Jeffrey H. Orleans, the former commissioner of the Ivy League, gave an interview to Libby Sander of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the current landscape concerning college athletics and Title IX. And as we listened to that podcast, it was hard not to notice that some of what he had to say probably discomfited the traditional supporters of gender quotas.

Thanks to Michael Fabrikant for compiling a transcript of the conversation.

Libby Sander (LS): I’m Libby Sander with The Chronicle of Higher Education and I’m sitting here with Jeff Orleans the former executive director of the Ivy League. Thanks for joining me Jeff.

Jeffrey H. Orleans (JHO): It’s a pleasure to be here Libby

LS: So Jeff you just retired in June and I know that retired life is treating you well, but back in the day when you were first getting started in your career you worked as a federal civil rights lawyer and you helped to draft the regulations for Title IX. So I was wondering if you could reflect a bit and talk with me about what you consider to be some of the major achievements in gender equity in college sports and where you think there’s still some work left to be done.

JHO: I think the biggest positive change we’ve seen in college athletics is that there is no longer any question about the legitimacy or importance – equal importance – of woman’s athletics and certainly in much of post secondary education, the opportunities for women are very real, very well funded, very comparable to those for men and are sustained and entrenched in exactly the way they should be. What I regret is that the opposition of big time football in the seventies and early eighties to women’s athletics created a sense of distrust that, I think, has not entirely dissipated and it meant that cases about equal opportunity often were litigated strictly in terms of numbers of athletes because it’s the large number of football players that affects the ratio of male/female athletes.

And that means two things.

One is that athletes in other male sports often suffered not, as folks often say, in order to provide women’s opportunities, but because we couldn’t figure out a better way to reconcile the large numbers of football players with the right proportions in men and women athletes.

Secondly, a lot of time and money was spent in dealing with the issue of football that could have been more constructively spent in providing opportunity for all men and women in all sports. So I think the largest unfinished issue in athletics, as women’s enrollments continue to climb and institutions become increasingly female at the undergraduate level is to provide real opportunity in men’s sports other than football and women’s sports and maintain football as a healthy sport in ways that go beyond the current reliance on numerical formulas or what’s called proportionality.

If we stay with that kind of reliance, men’s sports other than football will be injured and no one really wants that. So we need to find a way to provide really quality opportunities and comes to grips with the fact that a football team is probably three to four times as large as any other team on campus except maybe the rowing teams.

LS: So has some of this historical disconnect affected the tenor of the public discourse about Title IX right now?

JHO: It certainly did in the seventies and early eighties when the battle lines were draw with football trying to take the position that college athletics as we knew it up to that time would be very damaged if we spent resources or invested resources in women’s athletics and advocates for women’s athletics I think were rightly concerned and rightly felt a need to take a very assertive positions in promoting women’s athletics and defending the progress that had been made. I think the edge has gone from that conversation. I think the new edge is the real concern and legitimate concern of proponents of wrestling and other men’s sports who are feeling like they’re caught in the middle. That the peace between football on one hand and female athletics on the other is coming at the expense of other men’s sports not because anyone intends for that to happen, but because that’s what has happened.

And I think that sense of frustration does contribute to the climate and I think its important to respond to because its very legitimate frustration, particularly in times where dollars are very tight and very few people are expanding athletics programs in any respect it just requires us in college athletics to work even harder to come together to find the right solutions. I think the spirit of cooperation and for support for both women’s and men’s athletics together is at a very good point certainly a much better point than what it was twenty years ago but we still have work to do. Not just in the tone, but in finding real solutions.

The major issue is that the financing of all athletics is just very difficult especially in this economy. And not just in the schools that have the large expenditures for football but across the board its just much more expensive that it used to be. And we need to find ways to finance education across an institution that will be healthy for men and women’s sports, regardless of which sports are bringing in revenue or where the outside revenue is and then in a related way, we need to figure out how college athletics can work with K-12 education and non-scholastic education to make education make athletic opportunity for young people more colorblind and I say that because minority athletes seem to be disproportionately concentrated in a few sports at the secondary school level and within those sports, there seems to be more opportunity for minority males than for minority females, and those sports are football and basketball and track and field.

And we need to find ways to help school districts and local communities all of which are struggling with their own financial issues, to broaden the availability of athletic opportunity so that it is less dependent on family income and more widely available to members of all minority groups. And in doing that, to provide broad opportunities for girls of color as well as boys of color so that we can have a wide pool of young people of all backgrounds who can play all kinds of sports and I think that will help continue to make sports attractive and continue to make funding sports attractive at the collegiate level. And it will make them healthier experiences- make the athletic experience healthier if those experiences in all sports have the kind of diversity that really reflects our American population.

LS: So when you talk about non-scholastic, you’re referring to club sports…

JHO: Club sports…

LS: Very competitive club sports…

JHO: Which may be soccer in some areas, little league in other areas, basketball in other areas,

LS: Which, high school athletes we should point out, are increasingly participating in both high school and club sports or …

JHO: Choosing to be in only club…

LS: So this is really the way, if you want a scholarship, in a lot of sports, you play on a club team…

JHO: Yeah. And in some sports because the demographic of sports has been more white and middle class than other sports if we’re going to make those sports truly available to wide varieties of people we need to figure out how to change both the club and the non-scholastic opportunities. The ones I’m thinking of in particular are lacrosse, which is a growing national sport, in some colleges is present for women but not for men, for Title IX reasons, and rowing, which is a very popular woman’s sport and very expensive sport, the people who are involved in those sports are certainly making clear efforts to be widely inclusive but their background is that they’re middle class sports – again, rowing is an expensive sport – and I think we, in college sports, would do well to find some way to help the national governing bodies in those sports and the high school associations in those sports make sure that as they spread across the country, they are not simply moving from one set of suburbs to another.

LS: Jeff thanks for your time.

JHO: It’s a pleasure to do this with you.

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