Title IX interpretation unlikely to impact NU

Michelle Ma

While some universities are considering how to apply the first major interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court of Title IX in the last 25 years, Northwestern’s athletic teams are — for the moment — unaffected.

NU meets Title IX requirements by maintaining proportions of male and female athletes that mirror enrollment. The recent interpretation of Title IX will allow universities to be compliant by using surveys to determine what sports students are interested in. If interest does not exist for certain sports, schools do not have to offer them to prove that the university does not discriminate on the basis of gender.

The change — initiated by the Office of Civil Rights — suggests that schools use a Web-based survey to gauge all students’ interests and abilities to determine university compliance with Title IX.

The survey suggestion, the first interpretation of Title IX since 1979, was quietly announced online March 18. Noreen Morris, associate director for athletics at NU, said she was surprised a change was issued without warning.

“It’s a significant step for them to do it without getting feedback from the people it will affect,” she said. “(People) felt that they should have had more participation in the process and the ability to provide feedback before it became official.”

The change will have no immediate effect for NU’s 19 varsity teams, which meet Title IX compliance through proportionality. This is the first of three options, called prongs, that institutions can follow to ensure compliance.

The Web-based survey was compiled from questions asked by hundreds of schools trying to reach compliance under the third prong, which states schools are compliant if they “fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex,” according to the NCAA Web site.

“It’s the first time that institutions can with confidence use a survey whose results will be accepted by the OCR,” Morris said. “If you’d like to use prong three, here’s a way for you to figure out if there’s interest or not.”

NU’s current compliance under proportionality is ideal and doesn’t warrant use of a survey in the short-term, said Athletic Director Mark Murphy. Roster management, a process which caps men’s team rosters and works with women’s coaches to retain athletes, maintains Title IX compliance. Using a survey to measure student interest is a possibility, he said.

Maintaining a proportional ratio of male and female athletes accurately representing university enrollment takes the cooperation of all involved, said Kelly McCollum, women’s field hockey coach.

“We all know what our role and responsibility for squad size is and that keeps everyone on the right page,” said McCollum, McCormick ’95 and former NU field hockey player. “We understand what we do on the women’s side impacts what happens on the men’s side.”

NU’s athletic department has felt the effects of Title IX since the early 1990s when the varsity men’s fencing team was replaced by varsity women’s soccer to increase the number of female athletes, said women’s fencing coach Laurie Schiller. Since then, women’s lacrosse was reintroduced as a varsity sport along with women’s cross country.

Though Schiller said he is “pro-Title IX,” he doesn’t agree with cutting men’s sports teams for the sake of maintaining proportionality.

“You don’t get anywhere by discriminating against the other sex,” Schiller said. “It’s not a question of decreasing men’s participation when you’re increasing women’s participation.”

The new Model Survey provides more clarity for reaching Title IX compliance under prong three, but there are concerns that Title IX will be weakened by a “cure-all” survey.

“It’s an utterly stupid ruling in that nobody has thought about how to implement it,” Schiller said.

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]


Colleges and universities must follow at least one of three prongs to be in compliance with Title IX. Northwestern follows prong #1 to meet compliance standards.

#1 The institution has a proportionate number of male and female student athletes as the proportion of male and female students enrolled.

#2 The institution has continued to meet the interests and abilities of the students on campus by adding athletic programs.

#3 The institution has demonstrated that it has added every athletic program for which there is student interest or ability.

Title IX in the NCAA

Teams added since 1988-89

  • Women?s teams 3,433
  • Men?s teams 2,203

Teams dropped since 1988-89

  • Women?s teams 1,462
  • Men?s teams 2,161

Teams added in 2003-04 season

  • Women?s teams 142
  • Men?s teams 119

Teams dropped in 2003-04 season

  • Women?s teams 85
  • Men?s teams 128

source: www.ncaa.org