Righting wrongs

Or not...

On Sunday, 60 Minutes re-broadcast a story on Title IX. Coming as it did on the heels of of two Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action, the story got me thinking about how easy our society finds it to screw up a really simple idea.

Both affirmative action and Title IX were intended to redress very obvious problems in our society: the lack of racial and ethnic diversity, particularly in areas such as higher education and business, on the one hand, and the lack of opportunities for girls and women to participate in athletics on the other hand.


The Supreme Court decisions in the University of Michigan cases resoundingly affirm that there is a legitimate and compelling interest in ensuring a diverse student population and that race may be taken into account in the admissions process toward that end. Title IX prohibits schools that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of gender. Essentially carrot and stick approaches to the same problem: assuring equal opportunity.

Where affirmative action programs have run afoul is by using anything that even remotely resembles a quota. Hence the Court ruled against the University of Michigan's point system for undergraduates but ruled in favor of its law school "holistic" approach. (Let's not look that gift horse in the mouth.)


Where Title IX programs have run amok is by using nothing but quotas, at the governments encouragement and insistence! The government has told schools that the way to be in compliance with Title IX is to achieve numerical proportionality: if half the student population is female, then so must half the athletes be female.

The unintended consequence is that many schools have tried to even up the numbers by eliminating sports teams for boys and men rather than adding teams for girls and women. Thus "minor sports" like swimming, wrestling, and gymnastics have disappeared for men, even from top-flight colleges and universities.

If the same logic were applied to race as is being applied to gender, then schools would be eliminating white students instead of trying to add non-white students.

As in so many cases, money is the great mischief-maker here. Unlike football and basketball, those "minor" sports don't fill stadiums and arenas and don't cause rabid alumni fans to open their checkbooks. TV networks don't shell out millions of dollars to broadcast college shot-put finals. Professional football and basketball use colleges and universities in place of minor leagues to develop players, and the accompanying money has distorted the whole role of athletics in colleges and universities, most obviously for football and basketball. No school cuts its football or basketball program.

Mark my words. I make a bold prediction. If not the next summer Olympics certainly by the following one, United States athletes will fare miserably in the medal count. Our national pride will be injured. There will be fulminations and recriminations. There will probably even be hearings in Congress. Even more-than-usual jingoism will prevail. We'll demand to know why we're falling behind other countries. "Why aren't we number one?" commentators and pundits will thunder from their soapboxes.

Moral. You don't fix the lack of opportunity for some by taking away opportunity for others.