WASHINGTON (AP) _ A sharply divided Bush administration advisory commission voted Thursday for only modest changes to a landmark gender-equity law that substantially increased the number of female athletes.
Women's sports advocates had feared the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics would seek to overhaul _ and likely weaken _ Title IX. But after two days of sometimes contentious meetings, the panel failed to pass any sweeping recommendations.
In a key vote, the commission deadlocked 7-7 on a plan to alter the requirement that the ratio of male and female athletes at colleges and universities be roughly the same as the overall student body.
Commissioner Lisa Graham Keegan showed up after the plan was considered and left the meeting early without talking to reporters.
The commission will forward its report to Education Secretary Rod Paige, who will consider whether to recommend changing the law.
University of Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who proposed the recommendation that produced the tie, said she's satisfied because under commission rules the deadlock means it still goes into the report.
After Yow's proposal failed to pass, several more changes that would have altered or eliminated Title IX's fundamental proportionality standard were defeated.
Instead, the commission voted to tinker with the standard, recommending changes in the ways students and-or athletes are counted to measure compliance.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Its effect has been profound: The number of girls participating in high school sports rose from 294,000 to 2.8 million from 1971 to 2002. The number of women in college sports increased fivefold during the same time frame.
The law was clarified in 1979 with the introduction of the ``three-prong'' test, which gave schools the option of meeting any single element to be in compliance:
_A school's male-female athlete ratio must be ``substantially proportionate'' to its male-female enrollment.
_The school must show an ongoing history of broadening opportunities for women.
_A school must show that it is ``fully and effectively'' accommodating the interests and abilities of women.
The first prong gets the most attention, and it's the only one that can be met using pure statistics with little or no subjective interpretation. Even so, there is still a substantial gap between the percentage of U.S. female college students (56 percent) and the percentage of female college athletes (42 percent).
The commission recommended several changes to the first standard. One would establish a predetermined number of roster spots on each team that count toward Title IX compliance, rather than the actual number of athletes.
Co-chairman Ted Leland, athletic director at Stanford, said this rule would prevent a school from putting ``100 women on the rowing team'' to comply with the law.
``People just pump their numbers up by having a huge roster on their first day of competition,'' Leland said.
The commission also voted to not count male walk-ons _ athletes not on scholarships _ and nontraditional students such as those who are part-time or older as part of a school's male total. The change would mostly affect smaller schools, particularly community colleges.
Northern Illinois University athletic director Cary Groth opposed the recommendation.
``Walk-ons do cost money,'' Groth said. ``We get back to what is the center of these discussions, and that is money.''
Yow amended her plan to try to get it passed. It called for schools to be allowed a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the student body makeup, with a leeway of 2 to 3 percentage points. Her earlier proposal called for a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.
``If we had an apple and were hungry and we wanted to be fair, we would split it 50-50,'' Yow said.
Commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, was among those who voted against the plan. She said she doesn't believe the commission's mandate was to change proportionality and favors stronger enforcement of the existing law.
The commission voted down several other proposals, the most sweeping of which would have eliminated the ``proportionality'' requirement. It failed 11-4.
The commissioners also voted 8-7 against a proposal that interest surveys on campus be used to set a standard for proportionality. They did, however, vote to recommend that surveys be used as a tool to demonstrate Title IX compliance.
Critics say proportionality has forced schools to cut male sports to meet the ratio requirement. Roughly 400 men's college teams were eliminated in the 1990s, with wrestling taking such a blow that the National Wrestling Coaches Association has filed suit, claiming that the first prong has evolved into a quota system.