Proportionality is essentially another term for a quota. To achieve “proportionality” a school’s gender breakdown among athletes mirror the gender breakdown of students. For example, if 57% of the study body is female, 57% of the athletes must also be female. With women now taking almost 6 in 10 undergraduate spots nationally, schools often struggle to meet proportionality’s demands.
To meet proportionality’s gender quota, schools can add women’s programs or cut men’s programs. All too often, once other considerations, such as the budget, are taken into consideration, schools opt to cut men’s programs. Men’s swimming has been one of the hardest hit, along with other non-revenue sports such as tennis, wrestling, and gymnastics.
Even when entire teams are not eliminated, schools often institute roster caps that limit the number of male players that can participate on a team. The female equivalent teams rarely have such limits. In either circumstance—cuts or caps—schools are taking away valuable opportunities from their students in the false name of gender equity.
A better approach would be to move away from proportionality’s one-size-fits-all system and allow schools more flexibility in how they meet the interests and abilities of their student body. A simple starting point would be to institute interest surveys and ask the student body if they are interested in playing athletics. Schools could then take that information and craft a customized athletic program that fits their school’s needs.
So this August, when the spotlight is on Michael Phelps and the rest of the elite athletes on Team USA, let us not forget about the thousands of other talented athletes who have been robbed of the opportunity to compete through the misapplication of Title IX. Title IX’s enforcement mechanisms are long overdue for commonsense reforms. What better time than the Olympics to bring this conversation to the forefront.