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Smith Sports Experts Weigh In on Title IX

Smith College was well-represented during a recent open meeting of a governmental commission examining equality in sports participation.

The meeting, which took place on November 20 in San Diego, was one in a series held by Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. It invited testimony from the public regarding equal opportunity for males and females to participate in sports under Title IX of the federal Educational Amendments of 1972.
Among the sports experts to provide comments were Andrew Zimbalist, Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics, and Claire Williams ’03, a captain of Smith’s soccer team and an 8-year track athlete from Portland, Oregon. They joined actor Geena Davis; Val Ackerman, president of the Women’s National Basketball Association; Donna Lopiano, president of the Women’s Sports Foundation; and many other sports spokespersons.

Williams is conducting a special studies course on Title IX this semester with Chris Shelton, associate professor in exercise and sports studies, acting as her adviser. When she noticed the conference scheduled in San Diego (“the only meeting that was held after the soccer season,” she says), she booked a ticket and registered to testify before the commission.

Number 72 on the list, Williams didn’t expect to be heard, she said, but was moved up because of absences, and addressed the commission as the second-to-last speaker of the day, among some 40.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “I definitely came away from the meeting with a broader understanding of all the issues that surround Title IX, of all the people affected, and of all the possible solutions.”

While testifying in support of Title IX, Williams agreed with many suggestions put forth by Cedric Dempsey, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), including stronger enforcement of the law’s provisions and more thorough definition of the law’s parameters.

“The opportunity for women to play sports at the collegiate level is not yet equal to that for men,” she told the commission. “Women are interested in participating in sports, so why not start supplying the opportunities: opportunities in elementary and secondary schools and opportunities in college through emerging sports.”

Title IX has recently come under scrutiny in the wake of lawsuits charging that it unfairly penalizes some men’s sports teams by enforcing a quota system in which women’s athletic teams must represent a proportional number of participants to male teams.

While some colleges have eliminated men’s athletic teams -- mostly wrestling and gymnastics -- Williams and other Title IX supporters argue that a proportional quota is not part of the law, which states that equal opportunity shall be afforded males and females in athletic participation.

Altering Title IX would be a setback for women’s sports, Williams says. “Changing the regulatory interpretation of Title IX will surely have an adverse affect on women’s ability and opportunity to participate in sports in both high school and college,” she testified.

The commission’s final report, with recommendations to Secretary Paige, will be completed by January 31, 2003.

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