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After 35 years, as of Saturday's anniversary marking its implementation, Title IX is still seen by some as a liberal kind of unnatural plot, a sling-off-your-bra revolution and a rock-your-jock scheme to foist athletics upon girls and women and to tear sports away from boys and men.

It's not just beastly knuckle-draggers that think that way.

It's observers who have watched so-called minor sports programs for men start to evaporate off the collegiate landscape as women's sports have been given an opportunity to grow.

Equality, to them, is one bad mother.

The former, not the latter, is what Title IX was meant to be and beget.

The law reads like this: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under an education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Nearly four decades later, no school wants to be busted - or kept from collecting money, or sued - for falling far short of that.

So changes have occurred, not all of them perfect.

But girls and women have flocked to the opportunity to participate in high school and college sports. Millions of them. The days of scant chances are gone, although women's sports programs - as far as scholarships and resources committed - still lag behind men's by a wide margin. Still, unfortunate sub-sub-sub-standards of girls being assigned to lousy, completely inferior facilities, decked out in comical uniforms, using crappy equipment, under the supervision of second-rate coaches are growing less common.

Remember back when female students were dismally funneled into tiny and dank girls' gyms, stunting their sports horizons, while the boys enjoyed state-of-the-art, spacious environs where their athletic potential could be fulfilled? It's remarkable that lawmakers and administrators and parents, who presumably cared about their daughters as much as their sons, put up with that situation as long as they did.

The benefits of playing sports, for boys and girls, have been documented in studies that reveal the general boosts to self-esteem, healthy development of mind, body and spirit, and overall well-being are beyond argument.

If excuses were to be relied on for the delay, foremost among them would be that few knew girls were actually interested in sports. That was part of a socialization with boundaries far exceeding the fields of competition. It went to adults seeing separate roles for girls and boys that were ingrained in children from early ages.

For instance, in a classroom, when a teacher needed help moving tables and chairs, that instructor might have been more inclined to ask the boys to do that lifting. After all, they were stronger and more physically capable, right? Girls were seen as weaker and less able. That example reflects a kind of thinking that reinforced roles that likely led to young females being less physical.

Sports were seen as the realm of males. Boys were tough. Girls were dainty. Socialization is often subtle, but difficult to alter. For many years, girls who participated in sports were viewed by many as . . . something less than desirable.

Small wonder girls' interest in athletics was either diminished or seemingly diminished.

Now, it's growing quickly - 2.8 million girls reportedly participating in prep sports in the United States, compared with 3.9 million boys.

Measuring that exact level of interest is still tricky business, and it remains in the vortex of debate regarding the way the requirements of Title IX are applied to colleges. Essentially, the law says schools must offer sports programs and the benefits that go with them proportionate to their gender population.

That's a difficult standard, since there are more female college students than male. Some schools are cutting men's sports to balance the ledger. All against a push to gauge the aforementioned interest level of female students and use that as a measurement for Title IX, instead of strict proportionality.

Figuring that interest, though, is inexact, and a moving target, since an increasing number of women, in a more favorable social environment, are gaining interest and taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them. It is fair that they have an equal chance.

Nowhere in Title IX does it mandate that men's teams must be cut in order to make room and resources for women's teams. It's worth noting that, at the average Division I-A school, football and men's basketball programs sponge up nearly three-quarters of the complete men's operating budget. That largesse hurts other men's teams, whose scholarships often are cut back and available funds limited, all while the football team gets 85 scholarships and goodies beyond comparison. College football teams do not need 85 scholarships. NFL teams have much more limited personnel, in terms of gross numbers. Despite loud dissent from coaches and, sometimes, fervent fans, too much money is spent on football.

And don't get caught up in the hoo-hah that funds generated by college football support all the other sports in athletic departments. In most cases, that just isn't true. The vast majority of football programs consume much more money than they generate. Well over half of them can't even support themselves.

It's easy to see that football is a greater menace to men's college sports - such as wrestling and track and gymnastics - than any interest in balancing the equation for women's athletic opportunities.

Bottom line is Title IX, as it pertains to sports, although flawed, has proved to be a visionary enactment that, while in place, has seen the numbers of participants in sports, both male and female, swell upward. In short, it was - knuckle-draggers be damned - the right thing to do.

Anything that facilitates equality usually is.