Nationwide we are seeing a growing disparity between male and female students enrolling in college. This gender disparity is most severe in the African American community. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have enrollment ratios approaching 65 percent female to 35 percent male.
One would think that these schools would want to find creative ways to attract more male students to their campuses. Adding sports teams would seem to be one common sense solution to draw more male student applications.
Unfortunately, schools that want to start a men's team will run into a virtual roadblock in the federal law known as Title IX.
In 2002, Howard University cut men's wrestling and baseball while adding women's bowling in order to avoid possible Title IX problems. Notwithstanding, more than five years later, Howard is still not in compliance with the strict proportionality standard, and according to the most recent data would have to cut an additional 82 athletes from men's program's — that's more than 40 percent of all the male athletes currently attending the university.
I support the spirit of Title IX- that no one should be discriminated on the basis of gender. I think women should have the same opportunities to benefit from organized athletics. The truth is, as a seasoned coach I have learned to appreciate women's athletics much more because of the apparent balance between athletic ability and technical preparation and execution.
What I take issue with is the unfair and unreasonable way that Title IX regulations have impacted opportunities for male athletes. The problem, in particular, is the method of compliance known as proportionality. This regulatory standard requires that the ratio of male to female athletes on varsity teams closely mirror the ratio of male to female student undergraduate enrollment.
The impact of Title IX's proportionality standard has been disastrous, because at many colleges, far more males than females are seeking to take part in athletics. Schools have been left with no choice but to eliminate men's teams, and place limits on the numbers of male students on the programs that remain. Adding a team for male athletes is out of the question when a school is out of compliance with Title IX. For the student-athletes, the unintended consequences of Title IX enforcement have been devastating.
They have devoted young lifetimes to their sport, only to have their opportunity to compete diminish. Despite efforts to comply that include both eliminating men's teams and adding women's teams, the majority of our HBCUs still aren't in compliance with Title IX's strict proportionality test more than 35 years after the law's passage. Consider the findings of a recent study by the College Sports Council, which discovered the following after analyzing enrollment data reported by HBCUs to the Department of Education for the 2007 academic year:
* 73 of the nation's 75 HBCUs that are co-educational and have athletic programs were out of compliance with the strict proportionality standard.
* 30 of the schools out of compliance would have received an "F" from the Women's Sports Foundation in their latest report card on gender equity in college athletics.
* 43 schools, though they didn't get an "F";, are still vulnerable to lengthy and expensive litigation.
* Overall, 3,349 male athletes are at risk of losing their playing opportunities.
What's even more disconcerting is that even after many schools have cut men's programs, the continuing drop in male enrollment in higher education and the persistence of the strict proportionality standard will dictate even more dramatic cuts in the future.
In 2005 a model survey option was offered in the U.S. Department of Education's clarification for Title IX compliance. Unfortunately, to date, the NCAA is actively discouraging universities from using surveys to measure the interest of their students.
I believe that if Howard and other HBCUs want to increase their male enrollment, thereby increasing or at the least maintaining the opportunities available for African American male students to participate in college athletics, they should be afforded the latitude that the survey option offers.
Wade Hughes is a contributor to The Root.