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Female Athletes, Actors Lobby Bush to Keep Doors Open for Women in College Sports - 2003-02-27

Several stars from sports and entertainment were on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday to voice their opposition to a report on the status of the Title IX law that guarantees equal opportunity for women in collegiate sports.

On a snowy day in Washington, actresses Gena Davis and Holly Hunter, U.S. women's soccer team captain Julie Foudy and Olympic gymnast Dominque Dawes called for the Bush Administration to preserve Title IX rules, which supporters say has opened the door for equal opportunity for women in sports.

Several U.S. Senators, including minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, also called for Secretary of Education Rod Paige to accept a minority report that contradicts an official report from the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics.

Julie Foudy said she and former Olympic gold medallist Donna De Varona felt compelled to issue the alternative report because the Commission's report would radically alter Title IX.

"Many of the recommendations approved by the committee would substantially reduce the opportunities to which women and girls are entitled under current law," she said. "People have said to me, 'C'mon maybe some of these recommendations are not so bad. Maybe they are not ideal, but some times you have to negotiate.' I asked them, 'tell me when this country started negotiating away equal opportunity?'"

Foudy said that she and other members of the Commission on Athletics did not hear from key witnesses, including athletic directors of schools that have implemented Title IX without harming their men's collegiate sports programs. She also said the Commission report did not take into account the effect loosening Title IX rules would have on high school athletes.

Title IX prohibits discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. Colleges can prove compliance in one of three ways, prove they meet their female students' interests in sports, expand opportunities for women, or make sure opportunities for female athletes, including scholarships, are proportionate to the percentage of men and women enrolled. Senator Daschle said that not enforcing the Title IX provisions send the wrong message to young athletes.

"We've come a long way. But anyone who believes that Title IX is no longer necessary, has not really looked at the scoreboard," he said. "Women are still significantly underrepresented in the number of athletic scholarships and in the size of college recruitment budgets. Today in a highly flawed report, the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics is recommending to Secretary of Education Rod Paige that we actually slacken our effort for equal opportunity." "What a terrible step backwards," he added. President Bush appointed the Commission on Athletics after expressing concern that Title IX had given female athletes opportunities at the expense of men's teams. Some opponents of the rules say that they institute quotas for scholarships and athletic teams, and that smaller, non-revenue generating sports such as wrestling, have suffered because of the rules.

It is not certain that Education Secretary Paige will even consider the minority report. Most of the 15-member Commission on Athletics will recommend that schools be given more leeway in enforcing Title IX rules. Opponents say that would lead to more discrimination and less opportunity for female athletes.