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Athletics teeters on Title IX edge

Portland State University disproportionately favors men when it divides about $1.86 million in scholarship money among athletes. It also has unequally balanced numbers of men and women in athletics.

PSU has been awarding more scholarship money to men athletes and less to women, creating an imbalance that is proscribed in a federal law. In 2001-02, the turnout for male athletes was 55 percent, and the scholarship dollars should have reflected the same percentage, according to Title IX. Instead, the men were given 69 percent. The women’s turnout was 45 percent, but they received 31 percent of the scholarships.

Title IX requires an institution, such as PSU, must divide the total scholarship dollars in proportion to the participation of male and female athletes.

Thomas Burman and Sherri Frye, the athletic director and assistant director, defended PSU’s record, saying it was difficult to meet the federal guidelines and that being in Division I required more money for football.

In 1972, Congress passed the Education Act to provide equal opportunities to both men and women in programs that receive federal funding. In Title IX of the Education Act, there are three parts requiring proportional allocations: offering programs to accommodate the interests of men and women, dividing scholarship money between the genders, and dividing operating expenses for men’s and women’s sports.

The only enforcement mechanism under the law is to allow lawsuits to force compliance, and there has been no lawsuit over PSU’s allocations in the 2001-02 year.

The largest problem for PSU lies in financial assistance.

Since there is no limit to how many scholarships can go to a single team, some get cut short. Or in PSU’s case, the entire women’s athletic program gets cut short of scholarship dollars. From 2001-02, men’s teams received more than $1.3 million in aid, and the women received around $582,000.

If PSU were meeting the federal guidelines, the men should receive $1.02 million and the women $837,000.

The athletic program also has trouble meeting the guidelines for proportionately accommodating men’s and women’s interests and abilities under the law. The law includes three tests. The first, opportunities proportional to enrollment, means the school should have similar percentages of men in athletics as men enrolled and women in athletics to women enrolled.

The second test, past and present evidence of expanding programs, means PSU needs to show it has been adding sports and is continuing to do so until the men’s and women’s numbers equal out.

The third test of part one, meeting the interest of the underrepresented sex, means PSU must determine if it has adequately met student interests and add the sports for which there is demand.

PSU has trouble meeting the first test and is working on meeting the other “prongs,” as Frye calls the tests.

“The first prong is very difficult to meet,” Frye said.

From July, 2001, to June, 2002, according to the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act Report, PSU had 3,662 male undergraduates, equaling 44 percent. Contrary to Title IX, the actual percentage of male athletes was 55. While women undergraduates totaled 4,603, equaling 56 percent, but only had 45 percent of women in athletics.

Another issue the school has is in the third and final part of Title IX, Other Program Areas, which is mainly the amount of money spent on each gender group in athletics. In 2001-02 Portland State spent a total of $570,703 in operating expenses on the men’s team, not matching the 55 percent enrollment to the 59 percent spending on men. The school then spent $404,176 on women’s teams, which also doesn’t match the 45 percent enrollment to the 41 percent spending.

Balancing the budgets proportionately for men’s and women’s sports is difficult for PSU, as it is for other Division I schools because of sports such as football, Frye said. Football is a very expensive sport.

Last year alone, Portland State spent $307,139 on the football program. The next closest sport was men’s basketball, totaling $143,570, which is comparable to $124,717 for the women’s basketball team. The women’s basketball team was the highest by far of any other women’s team at PSU.

To be competitive in Division I, PSU needs to be able to spend that kind of money on football, Burman said.

More than one-third of PSU total spending for athletics went to football last year. After football is deducted the rest of the $974,879, equaling $667,740, is dispersed between 25 other sports, including both basketball teams.

We need to know that we’re going to have football, Frye explained. “We are trying to make sure that we are doing what we can to comply with the law.”

Overseeing the law and Portland State is the Office of Civil Rights. The office is in charge of making sure schools, like PSU are in compliance with the three prongs of Title IX.

As far as punishment goes for non-compliance schools, nothing, unless you’re sued, Frye explained.

Gary Johnson, director of the regional Office of Civil Rights, declined to respond to repeated phone calls regarding Title IX and referred questions to the office’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which also declined to answer.

In an attempt to comply with Title IX, the athletic department at PSU is working on a survey to get see what the students interests are, and hopefully will try to meet those interest if they are not already.

For example if there were a high interest in bowling, then PSU would look into making bowling a sport. Although, other factors are looked at. If bowling is popular, but few people are at a high level of bowling, then PSU might take that into consideration.

Along with the survey the college hopes to increase its participation by 8 percent in the next two years; 12 percent in the next five years.

“We never want to take opportunity away from anyone,” Frye said. “The survey should help us find where the interest lies and at what level.”