Christine Brennan and the Title IX Myth Making Machine

In 2005, the Wall Street Journal published a front page story titled, “Title IX’s Next Hurdle,” that contained the following quote: “Today it is best known as the law that helped pave the way for female athletes like Danica Patrick.”

That was a claim that came as a surprise to College Sports Council Chairman Eric Pearson. After all, the last time he had checked, the NCAA hadn’t started to sanction auto racing of any kind. In response, he put pen to paper and wrote a short essay, “Auto Racing and Title IX Myth-Makers.”

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal should have done a little research before asserting this claim, or maybe they chose to willingly join the myth-makers who like to link the success of every female athlete, like the tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, to Title IX even though they never participated in college athletics.

Though time has marched on, the myth-making continues, and it isn’t surprising that it does. After all, Title IX is a profoundly political issue, and if supporters can take credit for benefits that the law couldn’t possibly be responsible for, that makes it all the easier to fight legitimate efforts to reform the law and its enforcement.

The most recent instance of Title IX myth-making comes from USA Today‘s Christine Brennan. She wrote the following earlier this week in the wake of Kim Clijsters’ straight set victory over Vera Zvonereva in the women’s final of the U.S. Open:

This was the 15th consecutive U.S. Open women’s final to be decided in two sets. We have to go back to Steffi Graf’s 1995 victory against Monica Seles for a three-set finale. It’s almost mind-boggling that with all the money and interest in women’s tennis, and with Title IX 38 years old and flourishing in America, there still can be such disparity at the very top of the women’s game.

I think Brennan’s point here is pretty clear: how in the world could it be possible for there to be such a long history of lopsided finals on the women’s side of the U.S. Open when Title IX is helping to pump out an increasing number of American women who play tennis?

Unfortunately, that claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As anyone who follows professional tennis knows, the vast majority of professionals on the ATP and WTA tours are the products of private tennis academies, not American colleges and universities. That’s even more true for women’s tennis, where top prospects normally graduate to the women’s tour well before they’d ever be old enough to attend college.
If you really want to know about the realities of Tennis and Title IX, you could get a good start by taking a look at an analysis that the CSC published at the end of last month in conjunction with the start of the U.S. Open. In short, the analysis found that since proportionality had been given a legal safe harbor by the Clinton Administration in 1996, that the growth rate of women’s tennis in NCAA Division I hadn’t kept up with the growth of NCAA Division I as a whole.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side of the ledger, things were very different, as the number of NCAA Division I programs offering men’s tennis had declined by more than 14%.
To sum up, there isn’t any connection between Title IX and the quality of women’s tennis players that are being developed here in the U.S. For both men and women, private academies are the prime development pipeline for the sport.
As it turns out, the story doesn’t end there. We’ll have more on Brennan and Title IX next week. Stay tuned.
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