OPINION: TITLE IX DEBATE MISSES IMPORTANT POINT

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The debate over Title IX has introduced words like "proportionality", "participation rates," and "quota law" to the sports pages.

And, while colleges cut men's sports (somehow being unwilling to trim the fat off bloated football budgets), continue to give women second class status, and lawyers litigate, there is an important trend that has somehow escaped everybody's notice.

That notion is one in which an embedded, entrenched interest is doing everything in its power to exclude an entire gender from participation. The key, however, is that the justification for that interest's tactics is its very existence.

This behavior has received a new term in geopolitics: "tribalism." In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, tribalism has set Hutu against Tutsi in Sudan. Tribalism has set Serbs against Croatians against Bosnians in Yugoslavia. Tribalism has pitted white supremacists in Idaho and Texas against the U.S. government.

In recent years, there has been tribalism on the sports field. Boys resist girls playing football and wrestling; girls resist boys playing field hockey. Little League institutes a boys' fastpitch softball organization when an Arizona team wins the U15 World Series with five boys in the lineup; no all-male leagues are chartered the year after.

A female baseball catcher is forced to don male genitalia protection in a Little League game; wrestling coaches sue to prevent colleges from dropping varsity wrestling; a female soccer player in Texas is forced to remove clothing to prove that she is a girl and not a boy.

Today, there is a war between the sexes on the playing fields across America. And too often, it is in a sport where there is a large, entrenched interest on one side which is all too willing to force the other aside.

But what some of the entrenched majorities do not realize is that change is coming, and failure to adapt may render the sport to third- or fourth-class status.

Take wrestling, for instance. While there have been many men's college wrestling programs cut over the past decade, there have been some 30 new women's college wrestling programs in North America. Some have even attained varsity status.

In football, there has been an explosion in participation among women. Indeed, there were more pro women's football teams in the summer of 2002 than in the NFL, CFL, and NFL Europe combined.

In field hockey, where the American governing body spends a lot more on its women's program than on its men's, the ragtag men's indoor national team made the World Indoor Cup on the same weekend that its highly-trained women's indoor team did not.

In softball, where the men's fastpitch game has been in free-fall for some 15 years, the Women's Professional Softball League has been on hiatus since 1999, despite the U.S. national team winning softball gold in 1996 and 2000.

Even in soccer, where both the men's and women's national teams have been doing well the past few years, the Women's United Soccer Association has seen a large dropoff in attendance in 2002. Some have said it is because there is little if any crossover of interest between fans of the WUSA and the men's league, Major League Soccer.

Yes, women's sports are insulated from the world of economics and the "invisible hand" because of Title IX, as this branch of civil rights law does not apply to corporate sponsor or fans in the stands.

However, for women's sports -- all sports -- to be healthy and prosper in this land, needless bickering over territory and influence need to cease.

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