Another skirmish over Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law that in part mandates equal opportunity for male and female athletes in schools, was settled yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, both sides in the legal wrangling agree the war over the nearly 33-year-old law is far from over.
The high court refused to hear an appeal of a lower federal court's ruling that had turned away a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
The coaches group had argued that government regulations required colleges to make decisions regarding athletic programs - which, in some cases, meant cutting men's teams or forcing a reduction in rosters - based on quotas.
A divided panel of the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia Circuit said the suit improperly targeted federal officials and should have been aimed at colleges that eliminated men's teams.
"After almost four years, we hope the last word on this case has been spoken," Marcia D. Greenberger, National Women's Law Center co-president, said in a statement. "Title IX cannot be blamed for cuts to men's teams. It's high time the wrestlers stopped using this important law as a scapegoat for their own problems."
Mike Moyer, executive director of the wrestling coaches association, said his group will continue to fight in court. He said he seeks alliances with coaches in other affected men's sports, such as gymnastics, swimming and track and field.
"We're more determined than ever," Moyer said. "Men's teams continue to be eliminated and downsized across the country at an alarming rate, and we still haven't had our day in court."
The group has more litigation pending in front of the same appeals court and might consider filing suits against colleges "that are blatantly in violation of Title IX," said the coaches association's lawyer, Larry Joseph.
Meanwhile, the women's law center is concerned with a clarification of Title IX regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education in March.
Colleges can establish that they are in compliance with Title IX in several ways, one of which is to show they are "fully meeting the interest" of women students when considering whether to add new programs.
Among the methods colleges may employ to measure student interest are campus-wide interest surveys. Advocates for women's athletics argue that reliance on surveys alone in deciding whether to add sports would make it easy for schools to evade their responsibilities under Title IX.
The women's law center is trying to muster public support to have the Department of Education's clarification rescinded.
In still another Title IX legal battle, a Supreme Court ruling in March extended the law's reach to allow teachers and coaches who believed they were punished as whistleblowers to sue.
The case that the Supreme Court decided yesterday involves the argument advanced by some advocates for men's athletics that the law works to discriminate against males.
"There are countless athletes, both men and women, who are counting on a fair interpretation of Title IX that won't harm men," said Moyer of the wrestling coaches' group.
A college's decision whether to offer a sports program "should be based on interest and not on quotas," he said.
Neena Chaudhry, a senior counsel for the women's law center, said men still get the bulk of athletic sports budget money and how that money is spent has been up to the schools. When some men's sports programs, such as wrestling, complain that Title IX is responsible for budget cuts, she said, the criticism is misplaced.
"There are a lot of reasons to make that decision [about cutting sports], such as insurance or popularity," Chaudhry said.
"Schools are making independent decisions to structure their programs the way they want ... and sometimes 75 percent of the men's budget winds up going to football and basketball."