Wrestling and Title IX
By H. Clay McEldowney '69
I'm asked the question all the time. "So, Clay, why did Princeton
drop wrestling?" I was even asked in March 2002 in Albany,
New York, right after I had watched Greg Parker '03 create Princeton
athletic history by beating an undefeated and top-seeded Michigan
wrestler to become the Ivy's only finalist in the N.C.A.A. Division
I wrestling championships, and Princeton's sixth finalist in 50
years. The win brought tears to my eyes.
When athletic director Bob Myslik '61 announced on March 17, 1993,
that Princeton's varsity wrestling program would be discontinued
at the end of the season, he cited a list of reasons, which included
"budget realities" and that wrestling was "a sport
whose elimination would not create gender inequity." At the
time, I didn't buy it. Any wrestler knows that to cut weight you
don't cut off your feet. The Friends of Princeton Wrestling offered
to endow the sport, but the University wouldn't accept the offer.
The Friends attacked each reason on the list and showed how they
didn't hold up, except for one gender equity.
That same year, women gymnasts and volleyball players filed a
joint Title IX lawsuit against Brown University for eliminating
their teams to close a budget deficit. Title IX, signed into law
by President Nixon more than 30 years ago, prohibits any person
from being excluded from participation in, or being denied the benefits
of, or being subjected to discrimination under, any education program
or activity receiving federal financial assistance on the basis
of sex. It is a law that allowed the Brown women to sue to reinstate
their sports but not the Princeton men.
In 1979 the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department
of Education (OCR) created a three-prong test to measure compliance
in athletic participation. It was intended to measure compliance
in stages. Prong one is "proportionality," where the ratio
of individual athletic opportunities by sex is "substantially
proportionate" to their respective student enrollments. The
second prong is whether a school can show "a history and continuing
practice of program expansion" for the underrepresented sex,
and the third is whether a school can demonstrate "that the
interests and abilities of [the underrepresented sex] have been
fully and effectively accommodated."
During the 1990s, the OCR enforced its regulations and initiated
investigations and conducted reviews of schools. Understandably,
college administrators were running scared, since men far outnumbered
women in athletics. They have since been establishing gender quotas
through a combination of eliminating men's teams, capping men's
rosters, and adding women's programs.
If Princeton was going to hold down its athletic budget by cutting
a team, it certainly wasn't going to be a woman's team. And so Princeton's
wrestling program became one of 170 collegiate varsity wrestling
programs to be dropped since 1972.
At the time I did not know much about Title IX. When Gary Walters
became Princeton's athletic director in August 1994, I knew we were
going to have to address the law's enforcement policies if we were
ever going to reinstate wrestling. Walters quickly realized he had
two tigers by the tail unrelenting wrestling alumni and aggressive
enforcement of Title IX.
Bringing back wrestling, an all-male sport, would increase the
ratio of men to women athletes, violating prong one. Program expansion
was still possible, despite Princeton's rapid advancement in women's
athletics following coeducation in 1969. Ken Fairman, athletic director
during the first three years of coeducation, jump-started women's
athletics with seven women's programs. Royce Flippin '56, athletic
director from 1972 to 1979, added another four, bringing Princeton's
count to 11 teams in 10 years. Myslik added another five women's
teams between 1979 and 1992.
However, past "history" of expansion was not enough.
Princeton had to show a "continuing practice" of athletic
program expansion to meet OCR's second test.
Walters initiated a program in December 1995 to "strengthen
gender equity" by upgrading women's water polo from club to
varsity status, and creating a new women's lightweight crew. Today,
with wrestling back on solid ground, the Friends of Wrestling continue
to raise money for the endowment needed to fold the program back
into the university budget and look forward to celebrating 100 years
of Princeton wrestling in 2005. Women's water polo and lightweight
crew are flourishing.
One month after Walters announced his initiative, the OCR issued
a "clarification" to the three-part test, which established
an "irrefutable presumption of compliance" only with statistical
proportionality, or meeting a sex quota. Later that year armed with
the new OCR directive, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling against
Brown University and found that it had discriminated against the
women volleyball players and gymnasts in violation of Title IX.
When in 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not review
the ruling, gender quotas in college athletics became the rule of
Princeton is one of a handful of colleges that has reinstated
a men's athletic program, while providing an enviable offering of
women's athletics. According to its Equity in Athletics Disclosure
Act report for 2000-01, Princeton undergraduates competed in 20
men's and 18 women's varsity sports. Princeton ranked 24th in the
Sears Directors' Cup standings, the highest of any nonscholarship
institution. It has been the highest-ranking nonscholarship school
seven of the last eight years. In 2000-01, Princeton won 14 Ivy
championships, split evenly between men and women. Sports Illustrated
for Women selected Princeton as one of the top 10 best institutions
for female athletes. It was the only nonscholarship school on the
list. Yet, Princeton fails to meet Title IX's compliance test. While
48 percent of undergraduates are women, only 37 percent of athletes
are, despite Princeton's concerted efforts to meet the athletic
interests of its female students. There are 42 participants on the
men's lacrosse team but only 27 on the women's squad. Even dropping
football with the most men of any sport would not "correct"
the women's participation ratio, bringing it up to only 40 percent.
In the absence of adding any more female athletes to existing teams
or more female sports, Princeton would have to eliminate 187 male
athletes in addition to 106 football players to meet the gender
quota and reach Title IX's "safe harbor" for compliance,
an action which would do nothing to advance women's athletics.
Fortunately, Princeton and other private institutions can no longer
be sued for "disparate discrimination" as Brown had been
because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2001 Alexander v. Sandoval decision.
The decision has the effect of limiting Title IX to barring only
intentional discrimination and, as Stu Taylor '70 critiqued in The
National Journal, restores to Congress "the power to pass laws
with the expectation that they will be enforced as written, rather
than as someone thinks they should be written."
No men's sport is secure under the current enforcement policy
governing Title IX. Proportionality was an underlying factor in
Princeton's dropping wrestling in 1993, and, left unchecked, will
change men's sports as we know them at Princeton and throughout
H. Clay McEldowney '69 captained the varsity wrestling team as
a senior and, as chairman of the Friends of Princeton Wrestling
in the 1990's, led the effort to save the wrestling program. Named
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Man of the Year with
Eric Pearson '87 in 1997, he serves with Pearson on the board of
directors of the Washington, D.C.- based College Sports Council,
a named plaintiff in a Title IX lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department
of Education in January 2002.