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Emerging Title IX report ignites fairness debate

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An emerging report on Title IX has touched off more sparring over the gender-equity law, with advocates of change defending their work and women's rights groups calling the document unbalanced.

The report will be the foundation for any changes in how the landmark anti-discrimination law is enforced in high school and college sports programs. Members of the Commission on Opportunities in Athletics had until Thursday evening to comment on whether the staff-written preliminary report reflects their debates and ideas.

The final version will go to Education Secretary Rod Paige on Wednesday. In the meantime, the private circulation of drafts has reignited the debate.

A central issue is whether enforcement has caused colleges to cut men's programs so those schools can get their proportion of men's and women's programs closer in line. That concern led to a lawsuit that prompted Paige to set up the commission.

``We're looking to make sure that it appears as evenhanded as possible,'' said the commission's co-chairman, Stanford University athletic director Ted Leland. ``That's my obligation as chairman: to make sure it reflects the debate.''

But some women's sports advocates say the draft report ignores competing statistics and draws unfair conclusions about whether men's sports have suffered _ and whether Title IX is too blame. Overall, they say, the report ignores the law's original focus: discrimination against women.

``I really resent the characterization throughout the report that there was overwhelming consensus _ there was not _ and that somehow this report is not calling for substantive changes,'' said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. ``It's proposing huge changes for the weakening of Title IX.''

As with much of the Title IX debate, the sweep of the commission's recommendations has been widely disputed, and the technical language involved has added to the confusion.

The panel affirmed a commitment to the law but suggested changing ways to comply, such as altering how schools can determine ``proportional'' opportunities for men and women.

``These are not just editorial judgments. These are extremely consequential, and I think the drafters of the report understand how consequential they are,'' said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president for educational opportunities at the National Women's Law Center. ``This is not just stuff that's around the margins.''

Education Department staff members compiled the report based on testimony from the commission's meetings, spokeswoman Susan Aspey said. Paige has set no timetable for deciding which ideas, if any, to put in place, although changes are expected.

``One of the things that I hope doesn't get lost is that the most important point actually comes right now,'' said Lisa Graham Keegan, a commission member and chief executive officer of the Education Leaders Council. ``People will read it, they'll agree, they'll disagree. ... It really becomes a fuller discussion.''

The final version, Leland said, will underscore a point that critics say has been buried: Despite enormous strides, women still face obstacles in getting equal access to sports. The report will not, however, set out to please those on vocal extremes of the debate, he said.

``Our mission was to listen to the American people, report what we heard and make some recommendations, and I think they tend to be centrist recommendations,'' Leland said.

The draft report acknowledges the connection between Title IX and the loss of men's sports is ``hotly contested'' and that it is unfair to blame the loss of teams ``wholly'' on the law. It discourages the cutting of teams and makes several recommendations that, depending on interpretation, will give schools needed flexibility or curtail opportunities for women.

``It's fair to say that Title IX is a factor _ not the only factor, but a primary factor _ when (men's) programs are eliminated,'' said Eric Pearson of the College Sports Council, among the groups that sued the Education Department.
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