Fact Checking the Women’s Sports Foundation on John Stossel and Title IX

I had a hard time not chuckling a little bit in the run up to John Stossel’s prime time special last Friday night. The reason—this tweet that the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) let loose a couple of hours before it aired for the first time:

So what happened next? Well, I think it’s safe to say that Ms. Hogshead-Makar had a pretty tough time dealing with Mr. Stossel. Not that we should be surprised, as most gender quota advocates are used to getting softball questions from the media. She stammered through some of her answers and had to sit by helplessly as Stossel accused her of being a “lawyer-tyrant.” Believe me, it was compelling television.

I’m not terribly surprised that WSF went radio silent about the Stossel segment for a few days. After all, performances like that generally don’t encourage donors to open their check books. But late on Wednesday night WSF finally got off the mat and issued a press statement entitled, “Fact Check: Fox’s Stossel gets Title IX all wrong.”

In the spirit of fair play and open discussion, I’m going to fact check the WSF’s fact check of John Stossel. Here we go:

That’s inaccurate. The use of strict gender quotas that have been harming men’s athletics has been limited thus far to colleges and universities, not high schools (although it’s clear the National Women’s Law Center would like them to), so citing the data from the National Federation of State High School Associations at this point is irrelevant.

As for the NCAA data, it relies on some statistical sleight of hand. As the College Sports Council pointed out in a 2007 study, the growth in male athletic participation in the NCAA was attributable to the growth in member institutions, not organic growth in the number of athletes. When the growth in the NCAA was taken into account, a 25-year pattern of eliminating male athletic opportunities was revealed.

  • Fact check: Left out of Stossel’s segment is that Berkeley Athletics Department was suffering from an annual $10 million budget deficit, and that women’s teams were cut as well.

Whether the WSF wants to admit it or not, the men’s rugby team at Berkeley was cut in order to help the school more easily comply with gender quotas. The school won’t enjoy any budget savings from demoting men’s rugby from varsity status as the program actually returns money to the school. As for the claim that women’s teams were cut as well, that’s true, but when you add up the total number of athletes that were cut from Cal’s athletic department, men outnumbered women by a ratio of about 3-1.

  • Fact check: Men’s rugby was not cut; it was demoted to a status still above every other rugby program throughout the NCAA, varsity club. Various men’s and women’s sports teams were cut to save an estimated $5 million per year.

Others have wondered out loud exactly what “varsity club” status really means at Cal, but it hardly matters at this point. But as we just pointed out, men’s rugby was totally self-sufficient, so demoting the team won’t save Cal a single dime.

In fact, Jack Clark, the team’s coach, offered to fund a new women’s rugby team out of the men’s teams revenues but was rebuffed by the school. Which again leads us to this conclusion: If Cal wasn’t saving any money by cutting men’s rugby, the only reason to demote the program was to get 60 or so male rugby players out of the athletic program so the school could get closer to proportionality.

And here’s another whopper from WSF’s fact check document: “Stossel claims that Title IX requires schools to provide sports opportunities proportionate to the student body, but there are two other tests that are widely used.”

As we’ve pointed out in the past, there are two other prongs that schools can supposedly use to prove compliance with Title IX. Unfortunately, thanks to a combination of court decisions and guidance from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, implementing hard gender quotas are the only device that can guarantee that schools won’t be subject to costly litigation if they cut any women’s teams.

Don’t believe me? Why not ask the lawyers at Quinnipiac University and Delaware State University? In both of those cases, schools sought to cut a variety of men’s and women’s programs in order to realize budget savings. But both schools were successfully sued by female athletes whose programs had been cut, but were then reinstated as part of a settlement. As for the men’s programs, well, there was no similar reprieve.

And here’s the last relevant point from the WSF document that we need to take issue with: “Stossel claims that Title IX is unfairly hurting men’s gymnastics, when it is the entire sport that has suffered declines for both males and females.”

It’s here that we see one of the great untold stories of Title IX—how gender quotas can harm both male and female athletes. Schools often struggle with meeting gender quotas. We’ve already talked about how this affects the men’s side on the ledger. But on the women’s side, schools looking to rapidly increase the number of female athletes will often add large roster sports like crew and soccer over small roster sports like gymnastics. With an incentive like that, it’s not hard to see how sports like gymnastics, among others, could be terribly harmed.

So what’s the lesson here? For years, the gender quota lobby has been used to getting nothing but adulatory press coverage. As a result, they’ve hardly ever had to answer any hard questions about the unintended effects of Title IX. But one you take a closer look, the damage is very easy to see.

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