THIS POLITICAL SEASON, the pundits tell us, "personal narrative" is the driving force behind a candidate's popularity with the electorate. If that's the case, Bill Bradley owes his appeal -- the really catchy stuff at least -- almost entirely to sports. Basketball to be more precise. College basketball to be exact.

But for all Bradley owes athletics as a candidate, he's showing little concern as a potential chief executive for a growing threat to men's collegiate programs. Title IX, the 1972 law passed to ban discrimination against women in education, has been morphed into a federal gender-quota law in the hands of Clinton administration civil rights enforcers and activist federal judges. Men's sports programs are being eliminated at a startling rate. The wrestling program at Bradley's alma mater, Princeton, was a recent victim.

But when he was approached on the subject in Iowa recently, Bradley was less than sympathetic to the plight of his former brothers in sports. For him, Title IX presents two options: Either accept men's losses or go back to widespread discrimination against women. And given that choice, Bradley says, "let's not go back on Title IX." In other words, let men's programs bleed.

This position echoes that of other gender bean counters who are content to turn their backs on male athletes as long as the political cause of feminism gains. But at more than "the occasional university," men's programs are being cut -- by publicity-conscious administrators fearful of lawsuits, federal investigations, and the appearance of insufficient commitment to "gender equity" -- without women's programs' being added.

The General Accounting Office has calculated that 12 percent of men's sports opportunities have been eliminated since 1985 -- including 10 percent of their scholarship assistance. The Independent Women's Forum counts 350 teams that have fallen under the Title IX knife.

And if Bradley believes the boys have to suffer for the sins of their forefathers, says Kimberly Schuld of the Independent Women's Forum, he at least owes them a notion of how much suffering is enough. Will "gender equity" be realized when wrestling no longer exists on the collegiate level? Will justice for women be achieved when more low-cost, non-scholarship men's baseball and swimming squads are cut? When revenue-producing football and basketball programs are trimmed? How many men will have to lose for women to win?

Sorry guys, "Dollar Bill" ain't saying. When ninth-grade wrestler Clarke Davidson asked Bradley at a campaign stop in Des Moines earlier this month if he supported "proportionality" -- the Title IX quota mechanism that forces men's and women's athletics to mirror the gender balance in the student body as a whole -- Bradley played dumb. "What's proportionality?" he shot back.

But Bradley knows very well what proportionality is. In 1992 he served as a consultant to a NCAA Gender Equity Task Force charged with developing guidelines for schools struggling to comply with Title IX. In its final report, the task force declared that the "ultimate goal" of NCAA member institutions should be that "the numbers of male and female athletes are substantially proportionate to their numbers in the institution's undergraduate student population." In other words, "gender equity" means proportionality. Period.

To be fair, Bradley's support of gender quotas under Title IX is not unique among presidential aspirants. Al Gore has served as a loyal second-in-command in an administration more culpable than any other for the transformation of this antisex discrimination law into a quota-enforcement regime. And the Clinton-Gore team has not confined itself to sports programs. Any day now, the Justice Department is expected to publish a Title IX "mega-reg" that will extend Title IX enforcement to every institution that is touched (whether directly or indirectly) by federal education dollars.

That means math and science programs, museums, grant recipients, private associations, training programs -- all will come under the widening circle of Title IX enforcement.

On the Republican side, the outlook for ending gender quotas in athletics is only marginally brighter. Besieged male athletes and their female supporters, frustrated by a lack of support from Congress (even House speaker Dennis Hastert, a former wrestling coach, has offered little more than a sympathetic ear), have turned their sights on presidential candidates.

A group called Iowans Against Quotas is approaching the presidential candidates with a petition pledging them to abolish quotas under Title IX if elected president. So far, only Steve Forbes has signed. Front-runner George W. Bush is only halfway on board, saying he supports Title IX but that he doesn't believe that men's sports programs should be dropped in the name of Title IX.

Meanwhile, the casualties mount. Baseball players at Providence College, gymnasts at the University of New Mexico, soccer players at Miami of Ohio, swimmers at Northern Arizona, tennis players at the University of Cincinnati, trackmen at New Mexico State, wrestlers at Brigham Young, and hundreds of other male athletes at schools across the country won't suit up this season because their programs have been cut.

And the question remains: How much will be enough? Bill Bradley, who, after all, completed his collegiate sports career in 1965 -- seven years before Title IX was enacted into law -- isn't saying.

Jessica Gavora is currently writing a book on Title IX.

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