Open Letter to ESPN’s Peter Keating

Dear Peter:

As the leading group working for reform of Title IX, we are writing to take issue with your latest piece on this critical topic [The silent enemy of men’s sports; 5/23].  Let’s first straighten out some inaccuracies and errors:

You write, “Colleges have indeed axed hundreds of men’s teams in the Title IX era, often while explicitly scapegoating the law.”  First, the number of men’s teams that have been cut during that time is actually in the thousands, according to the NCAA’s own data.  What’s more, the vast majority of men’s teams that have survived must endure strict caps on their roster size, which further chokes off opportunity for male athletes.  So, the overall impact is far more than the hundreds of teams that may have received anecdotal attention when they were eliminated.

Also, it’s very rare that a particular school will openly admit that Title IX enforcement pressure is the overriding reason they must cut and cap men’s teams.  We study the issue intently and there’s only one recent example of that that we’ve seen — when James Madison administrators conceded that Title IX enforcement was the chief reason they cut several teams.  College administrators realize, of course, that citing Title IX as the guiding reason will mean a swift and painful denunciation from groups like the Women’s Sports Foundation and National Women’s Law Center — and the journalists that work hand in hand with those groups, like ESPN and USA Today (more on that in a minute).

You write that “Universities can comply with Title IX by showing that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their male and female students but the law says nothing about how they meet that demand.”  [Emphasis in original].  The reality is that WSF and NWLC threaten lawsuits against schools that even consider complying using that third prong of the enforcement test — and the NCAA and Department of Education pressure schools against using that method too.  That’s why all those groups have have fought so hard to scuttle the one surefire method of gauging student interest — simply asking them by using a reliable survey instrument.  Without a reliable way to prove they are meeting interest, one that is legally sound, schools instead use the first prong of the compliance test which is called “proportionality” — a legalese term that has the exact same effect as a gender quota.

You urge that the many athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators pushing for reform of Title IX should put our “preconceptions aside and just look at the data.”  Actually, we have.  Here’s a study we did not long ago using the NCAA’s own aggregate participation data.  When you factor in the additional schools that join NCAA each year and bring in their teams and athletes, it’s clear to see that virtually all men’s sports are in decline with only a couple holding flat.

It’s worth noting that the NCAA will not publicly release its underlying, source data — that is, the participation numbers they have been collecting from individual member schools for decades.  Has the NCAA been manipulating the overall, aggregate data that they do release, in order to paper over the full extent of the harm being done to men’s athletics?  Until the NCAA comes clean with the full files, we’ll never know.  Peter, it should offend you as a journalist that the NCAA is withholding this critical data — and we hope you will join us in demanding its release.

Citing public opinion surveys on Title IX is also misleading.  Those surveys are almost always commissioned by gender activist groups like WSF, using slanted questions guaranteed to get positive feedback.  Even when news organizations attempt a measurably sound poll, as the New York Times and CBS did recently, the questions are laughably skewed.  Here’s how they phrased the key question:  “Which of the following comes closest to your view about Title IX?  1) It is not strong enough…2) It is adequate but should be more strictly enforced…3) It is adequate and no change is needed…4) It is no longer necessary and should be repealed.”  But when we invited people who had been impacted by Title IX enforcement to share their first hand, unedited viewpoints, more than six thousand responded.  These are the athletes, parents, and coaches that reporters like you, Peter, seem to think don’t know enough about the issue.

The article presents a lengthy proposal for alternative ways that schools can issue scholarships.  That is an important issue — and here’s a recent study we did that shows just how badly the men’s side of college sports gets treated in that regard.  But scholarship allocation has nothing to do with the artificial quota that is imposed on schools by proportionality.  That’s because schools are forced to eliminate athletes and teams whether they are on scholarship or not — and that is the primary harm being done by the current enforcement regime.

Finally, here’s what is most galling about your piece.  ESPN is an active and large contributor to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the leading advocacy and lobbying group that is fighting against reform of the law.  ESPN’s coverage of the issue is presented to readers and viewers as objective and fair-minded — when the reality is that ESPN is working in close concert with agenda-driven advocates on the issue.  We have asked ESPN for some justification of this glaring conflict of interest and have never received an answer.  We also brought the matter to the attention of the Poynter Institute, which is supposed to be a watchdog on ESPN’s ethics, and they told us they were too busy to look into it.

Little wonder that American Sports Council has been shunted aside in ESPN’s bandwagon, rah-rah coverage of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.  Peter, you never reached out to us for input into your piece but we would invite you to respond to the points we are making here — and we would certainly be glad to have the dialogue appear on ESPN’s platform.


Jim McCarthy, Director of Media Relations

American Sports Council

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