New Title IX Debate: Will Women's Sports Suffer or Men's Sports Be Saved?

Ashley and Courtney Koester graduated from Northwestern University last week as national champions.

The 23-year-old twins were members of NU's women's lacrosse team, which became the first non-Eastern team to take the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship title by beating defending champs, the University of Virginia. Yet, only four years ago, the sisters had never even seen a lacrosse stick.

Steve McCain had just won his first individual national championship title for the UCLA men's gymnastics team as a freshman in the spring of 1993. He returned to school in the fall focused on winning an NCAA team title and training for the 1996 Olympic team.

But McCain and his teammates were informed that UCLA had cut the gymnastics program that had produced a long line of men's Olympic gymnasts. With all the distractions surrounding his training, McCain failed to qualify for the 1996 Olympic team and eventually left UCLA before graduating.

On the surface, these might seem like little more than fleeting human interest stories. But their larger themes loom over a fierce debate being waged over Title IX, the 1972 law that bans discrimination in education -- including sports programs at schools and universities -- based on gender. Title IX celebrates its 33rd anniversary this week.

Title IX has sparked controversy in the sports world since its inception, as schools have struggled to provide more opportunities for women without hurting men's sports programs. But the controversy and confusion over the law has reached new heights ever since the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights posted a Title IX "clarification" on its Web site late on a Friday in March.

Schools, which depend on OCR's Title IX guidance, have for decades demonstrated compliance through a number of legal standards set by the federal agency. Now the new guidelines are creating uncertainty.

Essentially, OCR is advising schools that they can use e-mail surveys to gauge interest in athletics among the student body. If the results indicate that within the underrepresented gender (usually women) there is interest and ability in a sport that the institution does not provide, the school would be obligated to satisfy that interest. Likewise, if the results show that students are not interested in a particular sport, the school would not have to provide those teams.

To read more about the debate, Click Here.

The big question about the clarification is whether it will save men's athletics, or seriously set back progress made in women's sports.

The OCR and its supporters say the clarification provides more guidance on the 30-year-old law, and will ultimately benefit both men's and women's athletics by allowing schools to effectively provide for their students.

Opponents say the new guidelines are a radical departure from the original law and will effectively freeze all progress that has been made in women's sports.

The NCAA, the national governing body of major college sports, is one of the most vocal opponents.

"The e-mail survey suggested in the clarification will not provide an adequate indicator of interest among young women to participate in college sports, nor does it encourage young women to participate -- a failure that will likely stymie the growth of women's athletics and could reverse the progress made over the last three decades," NCAA president Myles Brand said in a statement days after the clarification was posted.

To read more about the new clarification, Click Here.

On Friday, ABCNews.com will examine the arguments against the Title IX clarification.

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