Apparently I'm not the only one playing catch-up after a vacation. Today the Washington Post reported that a group called the College Sports Council has sued the GAO for a report issued in 2001 which, much to the group's chagrin, found Title IX not terribly harmful to men's sports and quite beneficial to women's sports. The report, entitled "Intercollegiate Athletics: Four-Year Colleges' Experience Adding and Discontinuing Teams," can be viewed at the website for the National Association for Girls & Women in Sport (PDF format).
The CSC had initially filed suit in district court in 2003 and amended it in late December. The claim the suit makes is that the GAO violated "accounting ethics" by producing misleading results, which in turn served to buttress policies they don't like. As the Post put it, the group "has decided to sue the messenger."
The CSC bills itself as "a national coalition of sports associations devoted to the promotion of the student athlete experience." While it says that it supports "broad-based intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women," it clearly has a bee in its bonnet about Title IX, which mandates equity in the treatment of men and women in collegiate athletics. This should not be surprising given that its member organizations are a half dozen coaches' associations for sports like wrestling and gymnastics which -- let's face it -- have seen men's programs dropped in recent years at a few institutions.
To say the suit has no merit is like saying Bill O'Reilly has no phone manners. The CSC claims that because the number of colleges surveyed increased at a higher rate than the number of new men's sports programs over the two decades covered in the study, the study is fatally flawed, misleading, and in violation of accounting ethics. First, grant that the raw numbers the CSC cites are correct, that controlling for the number of institutions the number of men's programs have decreased by a small number. That does not mean, however, that the study was flawed or misleading. Indeed, the GAO quite openly states that very fact in the section entitled "Scope and Methodology." Second, the report acknowledges that the trends are uneven across sports with several men's sports and a few women's sports losing participants and programs across the two decades.
The most damning response to the suit, however, is that the study does not rest on those raw numbers. Instead, the core message is that institutions have made a variety of responses to the demands placed on them by Title IX, and most of the time improvement in opportunities for women does not result in harm to men's programs. There is no universal response to Title IX and both the colleges and those enforcing the law at the Department of Education have been flexible in adjusting to its demands. To object to the study based only on that small slice of data misses the whole point.
The suit isn't really about the GAO report, despite what the Post story says. The real problem in the CSC's eyes is a report issued in early 2003 by the DOE's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics which upheld in substance Title IX and its enforcement and recommended some fine-tuning, which the department heeded. The CSC, in the midst of two different suits to halt enforcement of Title IX (which it lost), in early 2003 tried to bully the DOE into backing down on the commission's report, citing precisely the same data from the GAO report referred to above as leading to biased and incorrect conclusions by the commission. In the department's response (Word), it showed that the GAO report was not in itself determinative, a variety of sources were consulted, and its core claims were corroborated by others. So, failing to undermine the report directly, the CSC has ignored the DOE's response and sought to undermine the credibility of the GAO report in court for the apparently mystical power it has over policymakers. Oh, you know the mojo of those accountants . . .
In a mark of how the CSC has sold itself out to the rightwingers, they post a venomous diatribe by Phyllis Schlafly accusing Bush of loading the Commission with "radical feminists" and ultimately caving into their demands. When you've stopped laughing, I'll show you why that's bunk.
The commission had fifteen members and was co-chaired by retired basketball star Cynthia Cooper and Stanford AD Ted Leland. Other members who might be considered feminists (though "radical" is certainly debatable) were Donna de Varona, first president of the Women's Sports Foundation, and Julie Foudy, retired member of the U.S. Women's National Team for soccer and an advocate for women's sports. If anyone dominated the commission, however, it was the athletic directors; in addition to Stanford, the other universities represented were Boston College, Iowa, Northern Illinois and Maryland, as well as the head of the Southeastern Conference. Then throw in a college president (Penn State) and a top administrator at BYU. Though I'm sure they were all shrinking violets.
As for the claims of Schlafly and the National Review that meaningful Title IX reform was hampered by the commission's consensus rule, after considering the composition of the commission have a look at the list of votes in its final report. The rhetoric of the right and their new teammates at the CSC doesn't match the facts.
(It is worth noting that early press reports of the CSC's challenges listed baseball coaches as among its member organizations, but they are not currently listed. As of this writing I could find no evidence that this is due to the group's increasingly radical and hopeless legal challenges, but it does indicate that support for it is dwindling.)