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Altered schedules at issue for group claiming discrimination against girls

When the Florida High School Athletic Association meets this morning to re-examine its decision to reduce the high school sports schedule by 20 percent today at its year-end Board of Directors meeting, Nancy Hogshead-Makar will be anxiously awaiting its decision.

If the FHSAA reverses itself, she will be happy.

If not, she will sue.

"We are ready to file this lawsuit on Monday if it doesn't happen," said Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming medalist and spokeswoman for Florida's Parents for Athletic Equity, which is contending that the FHSAA is violating Title IX and discriminating against girls with its decision to cut sports schedules next year.

According to Hogshead-Makar, the FHSAA's ruling, which won't affect football, makes a much larger percentage of boys exempt than girls.

"Football is 37,000 kids, so 37,000 boys aren't affected by the rule,'' she said, "but 100 percent of girls are affected.''

Though the FHSAA also exempts cheerleading from the schedule cuts, Hogshead-Makar — a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville with expertise in gender equity — says cheerleading does not qualify as a sport under Title IX the way the FHSAA has implemented it. Among her concerns are that cheerleading teams can qualify for state merely by cheering at four sideline events, not by winning competitions, and that the sport "doesn't have the bells and whistles" of the other sports.

Hogshead-Makar said football's status as a money-maker should have no bearing on the decision.

"Frankly we're skeptical that it actually brings in money the way a business brings in money,'' she said. "And there's no exception in the law for football.''

But Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said football makes money and is the only sport that does, with the exception of basketball on occasion. Robinson said the decision to cut the sports schedule, and spare football, was simply financial.

"If this decision (to cut schedules) was made with the idea of saving money — and the issue was saving money — then why do you want to cut something that makes money?'' Robinson said.

Hogshead-Makar said a decision to cut football would be satisfactory to her group but not ideal. She prefers the 20 percent cut be rescinded, and that cheerleading be implemented properly by the FHSAA to count as a sport.

And if not?

"Then we're ready for litigation,'' she said.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com.

Altered schedules at issue for group claiming discrimination against girls 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 9:08pm]
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