Essay:Title IX Destroys Our Olympic Team

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The United States is doing poorly in the Olympics in 2008: five days into the competition, Americans have won only 10 gold medals, five of which have been by one swimmer.[1] The American gymnastics team lost the gold medal despite higher expectations. It is instructive to consider why the United States continues to decline in the Olympics.

Public schools and colleges, which are governed by Title IX quotas, produce very few Olympic winners. Instead, private clubs operating outside of Title IX and scraping by on private funding are producing a disproportionate share of winners:

  • Walter (Glenn) Eller, winner of a gold medal in shooting in 2008, did not train in school because liberals typically ban shooting clubs in public school; instead, Eller develops his skills while serving in the U.S. Army
  • Kristan Armstrong, winner of a gold medal in cycling in 2008 at the age of 35, is a professional cyclist and triathlete; her father was in the U.S. military and she went to high school in Japan, and apparently did not benefit from Title IX[2]
  • Michael Phelps, the winner of 5 gold medals in 2008 (as of 8/13/08) trained in the private swim club of North Baltimore AC, rather than his public high school.[3] He did not compete on a college team.
  • Mariel Zagunis, gold medal winner in 2004 and 2008 in fencing, attended a private (Catholic) high school and college and trained at a club.[4]
  • Natalie Coughlin, gold medal winner in 2004 and 2008 in the backstroke, trained at the California Aquatics swim club but also won NCAA tournaments for her college of the University of California - Berkeley.
  • Aaron Piersol, gold medal winner in 2004 and 2008 in the backstroke, trained at the Longhorn Aquatics swim club and only competed in college in 2003.[5]

Since promulgation of the Title IX proportionality test in 1979, the medal share won by the United States Olympic team has dramatically and predictably declined, the breakup of the Soviet bloc notwithstanding. Quotas impair competitiveness, whether for race or gender. Just as victory should go to the best competitor on the field, regardless of race or gender, teams should be funded for the most talented and motivated. But Title IX prevents that.

Never in history has the United States participated in the Olympics and returned with such a small percentage of medals as in the last two, in 2000 and 2004.[6] Greg Louganis, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, has seen his original college diving team eliminated. For the first time, The United States failed to bring home a single diving medal from the 2004 summer games in Athens. The famous men's swimming team at UCLA that previously produced 16 Olympic champions has been terminated due to the Title IX quotas. Our Olympic swimmers are now heavily dependent on private clubs rather than schools. In 2002, Howard University felt compelled to eliminate its baseball team entirely, and its wrestling team too.[7] The American team in baseball, our national pastime, failed even to qualify to compete at the Olympics in Athens. The United States could win only one gold medal in wrestling in 2004. In fact, no American men's team (other than rowing and relays) was able to win the gold medal this year, and most of the individual men and women gold medal winners developed their skills in private clubs rather than Title IX programs.

Enforcement of Title IX quotas through the private cause of action has caused the elimination of hundreds of wrestling teams at college. In 1981-82, 52.7% of NCAA Division I colleges had a wrestling team. By 2000-01, only 27.1% of colleges did,[8] and even fewer do today. Despite a substantial increase in the number of colleges in the NCAA Division I during that period, the number of athletes competing in wrestling declined from 3,659 to 2,662. Similar declines occurred in NCAA Divisions II and III. Overall, the number of colleges in the NCAA increased from 787 to 1,049 from 1981-21 to 2000-01, yet the number of wrestlers declined from 7,914 to 5,966. Id. This decline is due not to high costs of wrestling (it is inexpensive) nor to any decline in demand, which remains high as reflected by the continuing popularity of high school programs.[9]

The bean-counting approach of Title IX favors sports with large squad sizes for women, and reducing or eliminating small-squad women's teams like gymnastics and many men's teams. The resulting distortion is disastrous to our Olympic team.

The March 2001 General Accounting Office (GAO) report bears this out. In the 1980s and 1990s, women's sports with large squad sizes have ballooned.[10] Rowing (crew) is an example. It features the largest average squad size for women, an enormous 46.3 members per team.[11] The number of these teams increased by 184% during this time period, despite little to no interest at the high school level.[12] The University of Massachusetts women's rowing coach, Jim Dietz, bluntly admitted, "The reason we're here--everybody knows it--is for gender equity."[13] Women's water polo, another large-squad-size sport, increased for women by 3,600%.[14] Women's equestrian, boasting an average squad size of 26.2, exploded with a 486% increase as athletic directors seek numerical balancing.[15] These increases result not from a boom in high school demand for these opportunities, but from colleges' attempt to boost women's participation numbers.

Meanwhile, an historically popular sport for women suffered the consequences of planning-by-the-numbers. Gymnastics fell by 53% during this time period.[16] During a time when Title IX required massive expenditures on women's sports to increase opportunities, women's gymnastics was cut from 190 teams to only 90. This reflects the small squad size of a gymnastics team, making it unattractive in the numbers game. The small squads of fencing and archery, other women favorites, also fell sharply.[17] As a result, nearly all of the women on the Olympic gymnastics team developed their skills in private clubs rather than Title IX programs. In the 2000 Olympics we failed to win a single women's gymnastics medal, and in 2004 the only gymnastics medals were won by private club, non-Title IX athletes.

In sports for which women share the practice facility with men, the elimination of the men's team means that the practice facility is eliminated for women too. Fencing is an example. The elimination of 42 men's fencing teams between 1981-82 and 1998-99 caused a similar elimination of nearly as many teams (31) for women. [18] Archery, too: the number of men's teams declined during the period to a total of only six in 1998-99, and the number of women's archery teams declined to the same small number.[19]

On the men's side, the combination of the proportionality test and private cause of action has caused declines in most of the large squad sports. Wrestling teams, as discussed above, have declined by 40%, reflecting a drop of the sport by an astounding 171 schools; 37 schools dropped football; 27 dropped outdoor track; 25 dropped swimming; and 10 ended ice hockey.[20]

An often cited example by proponents of the private cause of action is women's soccer, which did grow by 1,058% in college.[21] But that growth is not attributable to the private cause of action. Rather, this is an example of how supply met demand without private litigation, as girls' soccer grew by 912% in high school over the comparable period. [22] As such, soccer serves as the best proof that intercollegiate teams increase in proportion to demand, without the need for any private "attorneys general" fueling litigation across the country.

America has a hallowed tradition of producing tremendous women athletes long before the quotas of Title IX. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias, Wilma Randolph, Pat McCormick, Althea Gibson and Bonnie Blair were among the greatest. Pat McCormick, for example, won double gold medals in diving at back-to-back Olympics, with her second pair of gold medals coming only five months after she gave birth. But the Title IX quotas, enforced by an unjustified private cause of action, have choked off opportunity for women divers and many other promising competitors. Pat McCormick went on to initiate a special program for the disadvantaged after her athletic triumph. Top achievers among Title IX-funded women athletes today seem instead to be posing nude in Playboy.[23] This is progress?


  7. Mark Asher, "Howard [**17] Drops Baseball, Wrestling," Washington Post, D1 (May 23, 2002).
  8. See NCAA Sport-by-Sport Participation and Sponsor-ship-Men's Sports 1982-2001, at 119.[1]
  9. See National Federation of State High School Associations Participation Study 1971-01, at 191.[2]
  10. See United States General Accounting Office (GAO), "Intercollegiate Athletics, Four-Year Colleges' Experiences Adding and Discontinuing Teams" GAO-01-297 [hereinafter, GAO Report] 12 (Mar. 2001).
  11. Id. at 9-12.
  12. Id. at 12.
  13. Jessica Gavora, Tilting the Playing Field 66 (2002).
  14. GAO Report at 12.
  15. Id. at 9-12.
  16. Id. at 12.
  17. Id.
  18. Id.
  19. Id.
  20. Id. at 13.
  21. Id. at 12.
  22. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls' interscholastic soccer teams increased from 599 to 5,463 from 1977 to 1994, the high school years corresponding to the GAO's 1981-1998 survey of intercollegiate sports. See National Federation of State High School Associations Participation Study 1971-01, at 187.[3].
  23. Dan Bickley, "Hats Off to Women with Clothes On," Arizona Republic, 1C (Aug. 29, 2004).