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Has equality in sports gone too far?

A federal panel mulls changes to Title IX, which has remade women's sports over 30 years.

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St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y., recently decided to drop its football team. True, the small college is not a gridiron powerhouse: You won't see it battling for a national championship in the Sugar Bowl.

But the cut is serious, nonetheless. The official reason for the move: Title IX - the landmark 1972 federal law that mandated gender equality in education and has had a striking impact on college sports.

While the university also trimmed some other male and female athletic teams, school officials say they needed to drop the 62-member football team to meet a specific test of equality under Title IX: fielding numbers of men and women athletes in proportion to the student body - which has a growing female majority.

The issue of proportionality lies at the heart of an emerging fight over the controversial 30-year-old Title IX law that has already had a dramatic impact on the economic and social culture of American higher education.

The statute has unquestionably produced many new sports opportunities for women. Yet detractors say misinterpretation of the law has also needlessly resulted in the elimination of men's sports teams and fewer opportunities for male athletes.

Now a national blue-ribbon panel that has been reviewing Title IX is about to issue its recommendations - and the lobbying is escalating on both sides.

Some expect the commission, named by Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Roderick Paige, to propose rewriting certain regulations, including the key proportionality test, to make it easier for schools to comply.

Any rollback in the law's reach, or new flexibility built into it, would be welcomed by many coaches involved in smaller-scale men's sports like wrestling, which are often the first cut in funding battles over athletics.

But women's groups, which consider Title IX one of the seminal gender achievements of the past three decades, are mounting a fierce drive to keep the measure intact. They're worried about the makeup of the commission. They argue that the 15-member panel has 10 representatives from NCAA Division 1A schools - institutions typically having football and basketball programs that make it difficult to meet Title IX's proportionality test.

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