Answering Bonnie Erbe’s Question About Title IX

Things are pretty much status quo since we last checked in at Delaware State University, currently the subject of not one, but two separate Title IX law suits concerning the elimination of its equestrian program. The suit got the attention of Bonnie Erbe, host of the PBS program, To The Contrary, something she noted yesterday at her blog at U.S. News and World Report:

The school is blaming budget cuts for the elimination of men’s tennis and women’s equestrian sports. But questions remain: why would DSU create a women’s team in a sport not very popular with African-American women (perhaps to draw more of them into the sport)? And why would a school already apparently so out of compliance with Title IX, make greater cuts in women’s sports in times of economic trouble, than in men’s sports?

When it comes to the creation of teams, student interest has little to do with which sports are added on the women’s side of the ledger. As we’ve noted repeatedly in the past, schools will often add a sport for women because it has a large roster that helps the school comply with the strict proportionality test most often used to judge compliance with Title IX.

As to the second question, we also already know that many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are in the midst of an enrollment crisis when it comes to men, something that the College Sports Council pointed out when we issued a study about HBCUs in 2008. According to data from the Department of Education, female enrollment at HBCUs in 2007 was already at 61%, and these schools are desperate to do anything they could to continue to attract male students. As we noted in our release in 2008:

“The purpose of this study is to show that schools like the HBCUs that want to attract more male students run into a virtual roadblock when it comes to complying with Title IX’s proportionality standard,” said Eric Pearson, Chairman of the CSC. “The CSC calls on the NCAA to support HBCUs use of surveys to comply with Title IX. HBCUs need the flexibility that surveys offer, if they want to use sports to increase male enrollment,” Pearson said.

Furthermore …

“Currently, HBCUs are struggling to increase male enrollment, and offering varsity athletic programs is one practical tool a college or university has to increase the number of male students on campus, ” said Wade Hughes, who was head coach of Howard University’s wrestling team when the program was terminated back in 2002 along with the baseball team. “At the time the wrestling and baseball teams were eliminated at Howard, the university was out of compliance with proportionality. Now here we are again, five years later, they’ve added bowling as a varsity sport for women and the university has still not achieved proportionality.”

For more from Mr. Hughes, click here to read his piece that ran at The Root in 2008: Where’s the Title IX for Black Men?

So what’s the solution? Instead of strict proportionality, we believe that HBCUs ought to be allowed to use model surveys to gauge actual interest in sports, something that would give these institutions the flexibility they need to use the athletic program to attract additional male enrollment.

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