Brigham Young University Athletics “blind-cited” by National Women’s Law Center on 25th anniversary of Title IX

by MICHAEL CHARLES WATERS

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.

Twenty-five years after it was enacted, Brigham Young University found itself in trouble with the federal law. The law was signed in 1972 by President Richard Nixon to give equality to women in programs that provide education. The law states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” (United States Congress)

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on March 2, 1997, that BYU claimed its athletics program had given varsity status to sports in which female athletes had shown interest and ability to compete. BYU women’s athletic director Elaine Michaelis said BYU had what it needed for quality programs, but that there were some areas that needed improving. She also pointed to progress with upgrading women’s locker rooms, ensuring that practice facilities were equal, and adding a women’s soccer team to increase the number of women’s scholarships. But, in order to afford scholarships for women’s soccer, BYU had to shift money from the men’s sports. One of those sports was men’s wrestling.

The Deseret News reported on March 11, 1997, that BYU wrestling was on the bubble and was close to discontinuation. Head wrestling coach Mark Schultz was having a difficult time recruiting athletes to BYU, because scholarships were scarce due to BYU’s continued efforts to comply with Title IX. Funds were being taken from wrestling and reallocated to other areas, and Schultz was told his position would be adjusted to part-time status. Athletic director Rondo Fehlberg, who was an All-American wrestler at BYU in the early 1970s, had mentioned that his preference was to add sports instead of dropping them. But if it became necessary for gender-equity, he would drop wrestling. Per former U.S. Department of Justice policy advisor Jessica Gavora:

“…No men’s program is exempted, no matter how successful or established… Brigham Young University eliminated its top-10-ranked men’s gymnastics team and its top-25-ranked wrestling team.” (53)

BYU’s head track coach Willard Hirschi also had some troubles with Title IX. Hirschi said in an interview with the Deseret News on March 13, 1997, that the men’s team was only allowed 12 scholarships for 19 events, while the women’s team was awarded 18 scholarships. Part of the reason women had more track scholarships than men is that an imbalance is created by the large number of football players awarded scholarships. The total number of financial awards allocated to other men’s teams is then adjusted accordingly. This didn’t sit well with Hirschi.

TitleIXComplianceCommitteeCharter11-25-13_0

The first page of the charter prepared by the Title IX Compliance Committee at Brigham Young University.

The Deseret News, BYU’s own Daily Universe, and The Salt Lake Tribune reported on June 3 and June 4, 1997, that the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed complaints against 25 schools, including BYU, stating that the institutions were not in compliance with Title IX. The complaint alleged that female varsity athletes were not receiving the same benefits by way of scholarships as the men were.

R. J. Snow, vice president for advancement at BYU, said in an interview with the Deseret News on June 3 that the institution was making considerable advancements when it came to women’s collegiate athletics. He also said that the motivation behind the complaints directed at BYU and other institutions, including Utah State University, was mainly for publicity and that the NWLC went to the media first before contacting the listed schools. In a statement to the Deseret News, NWLC co-President Marcia D. Greenberger said female athletes were putting forth a lot of effort, but were getting the short end of the stick when it came to getting scholarships.

The Daily Universe reported on June 4, 1997, that the complaint’s purpose was to have the schools in violation work with the Office of Education for Civil Rights. According to what Michaelis told the Universe, BYU had been doing just that for the past three years. The Universe also reported that the claims requested that women’s teams have equal locker space, the same quality of media guides and the same room and board opportunities as male athletes. After a random audit two years prior to the claims from the NWLC, BYU completed a new women’s locker room that provided more space. But Michaelis said the national scene was changing and BYU needed to look further at improving the women’s program. Otherwise, BYU would lose all federal funding.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on June 4, 1997, that the BYU student body was made up of 52 percent women, but that women only made up 38 percent of the school’s varsity athletes. They also reported that the women’s varsity teams only received 30 percent of the school’s monetary awards in athletic-related student aid. This was an infraction of Title IX.

On June 7, 1997, The Salt Lake Tribune published another story stating that it was odd to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Title IX by filing complaints against just 25 schools. Indeed, as Fort Worth Star-Telegram journalist Andy Frielander reported, there were 305 Division I schools in the National Collegiate Athletics Association in 1997. The Tribune’s article reiterates the complaint that the 25 schools should offer the same number of scholarships between women and men as well as a standard that the percentage of woman in the student body should equal the percentage of female varsity athletes. The Tribune also quotes Title XIV as it pertains to athletic scholarships:

“To the extent that a recipient awards athletic scholarships or grants-in-aid, it must provide reasonable opportunities for such awards for members of each sex in proportion to the number of students of each sex participating in interscholastic or intercollegiate athletics.” (U.S. Department of Education)

The Tribune added that institutions of higher learning should strive for gender equity in both participation and scholarship awards.

On June 20, 1997, syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote in the Deseret News that Title IX has not equalized opportunities for women in sports.

“In 1972, Title IX was passed in the name of fairness. Why pay the tax dollars so our sons could play but not our daughters? But the playing field is not yet truly level. There is barely a school in the country in which the proportion of women athletes matches the proportion of women students.”

Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune reported on December 9, 1997, that Michaelis said that Title IX has helped women gain many opportunities in sports. Female athletes were starting to get more of what the men got.

On December 11, 2011, the Daily Universe reported that the playing field for women in sports was leveling out. But there is still a problem for some men’s teams, because football is included in the scholarship count.

“There are 4.5 scholarships given to the men’s tennis program and 8 to the women’s, 9.9 to the men’s swim and dive team compared to the 14 women receive, and 12.6 for the men’s cross country/track and field team, whereas the women’s squad gets 18 at BYU. As a result, the fairness of Title IX continues to be debated among those affected by it.” (Ellett)

This shows that BYU was making progress toward total compliance with Title IX, regardless of lack of scholarships for male athletes not playing football.

On August 8, 2012, The Daily Universe reported that the decision to cut men’s gymnastics and the wrestling team further helped BYU be compliant with Title IX: “That decision has helped BYU to better meet the standards set for Title IX and allow the university to use its resources in the best ways possible.” Janie Penfield, BYU associate athletic director, also said in the article that schools are only checked occasionally to make sure they meet Title IX requirements. If schools show little to no progress, they will be penalized.

A committee charter from 2013 illustrates that BYU continues to push for full compliance with Title IX.

Michael Charles Waters is a junior at The University of Utah majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism. He has worked for Salt Lake Community College, where he had his own sports talk show for school radio and television, and interned with the Utah Jazz in video production. He currently works at The University of Utah filming and creating highlight videos for the teams as well as supply play-by-play analysis and color commentary for some of the teams.

Sources

Joe Baird, “Bridging the Gap; Utah Schools Pleased With Progress on Gender Front; Local Schools Like Their Progress,” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 2, 1997, B1.

Jeff Call, “BYU coach wrestles hard times,” Deseret News, March 11, 1997, D7.

Doug Robinson, “BYU’s Hirschi believes Title IX is hurting track and field,” Deseret News, March 13, 1997, D3.

Jeff Call, “BYU, USU among 25 to be cited,” Deseret News, June 3, 1997, D4.

Dan Egan, “BYU and USU Both Caught Off Guard By Group’s Charge; TITLE IX: Catches BYU, USU Off Guard,” The Salt Lake Tribune, June 4 1997, B1.

Kathryn Sorenson, “BYU under fire for discrimination,” The Daily Universe, June 4, 1997.

“Pay to Play—Equally,” The Salt Lake Tribune, June 7, 1997, A10.

Gordon Monson, “Michaelis Loves ‘Purity of Sport’ (And Winning); Michaelis Leads Cougs To the Final 16,” The Salt Lake Tribune, December 9, 1997, D1.

“Brigham Young University Title IX Compliance Committee Charter,” Brigham Young University Compliance, http://bit.ly/2p9sDMU

Ellett, Carlie McKeon. “At 40, Title IX has leveled playing field at BYU.” The Daily Universe, December 11, 2011. http://bit.ly/2oAlmb6

Frielander, Andy. “UTA meets Title IX standards—University ranks high in recent gender study,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 30, 1997, 1.

Gavora, Jessica. Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002.

Goodman, Ellen. “Title IX has yet to level the playing field for women.” Deseret News, June 20, 1997, A11.

Houghton, Jared. “Title IX: Helping or hindering college sports?” The Daily Universe, August 8, 2012. http://bit.ly/2otNvQX

United States Department of Labor. “Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972.” http://bit.ly/24uzmTF

Cornell University Law School. Legal Information Institute. 14 CFR 1253.430, Financial Assistance. http://bit.ly/2p9OCnb

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