It isn't a secret that Blake Ress, the head of the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), doesn't like girls playing baseball. "I really think girls ought to be playing softball instead of baseball," he recently told the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Initially, Ress allowed his personal bias to lead to a policy error that cost the IHSAA some legal fees. The good news is that Ress is a sufficiently experienced administrator to realize that turning his personal bias into a moral imperative would have led him into a costly legal battle that he ultimately would have lost. As Ress puts it, "Our odds are against us winning it in court."
The IHSAA has had a long-standing rule barring girls from trying out for a baseball team if their school had a softball team. The rule is old, and it's not clear whether the rule initially existed to promote the interests of softball coaches or whether it simply enshrined a bias against girls playing baseball into a rule. No matter. The march of time cures either problem. In February, 2008, a high school girl named Heather Bauduin wanted to play baseball, and threatened to sue the IHSAA under Title IX, which allows girls to play baseball. The IHSAA granted her a waiver to its rule, as its attorneys advised the IHSAA that it would have lost the lawsuit.
While the initial purpose of the rule was unclear, it is clear that by 2008 the IHSAA had a bias against girls playing baseball. An organization that did not have an inherent bias probably would have immediately wiped the rule barring girls from playing baseball off of its books. After all, it was clear that the IHSAA wouldn't defend the rule, and the IHSAA had tacitly conceded that the rule was inherently discriminatory by granting Bauduin a waiver. However, people and organizations who have a bias often don't take steps to eliminate the formal residue of their biases, even when they're no longer prepared to enforce them. If you don't believe this, just pore through the laws in some of our southern states. You'll still find some Jim Crow laws on the books. Those laws simply are not enforced; they die a practical death from disuse, but they are still on the books.
Here, the IHSAA opted to keep its no girls in baseball rule on the books. This created three possibilities: (1) The rule could have died a natural death - remaining on the books and being ignored by the extremely small number of girls who play baseball; (2) The rule could have become a mere formality: a rubber stamp if you will, where any girl who applied for a waiver to play baseball automatically got it; or (3) Some girl would have challenged the need for the rule. The IHSAA had the bad luck of drawing option #3.
The New Challenge/Making The Right Call
In 2009, a high school girl named Logan Young wanted to play baseball. She pointed out that the IHSAA's requirement that she apply for a waiver was a discriminatory rule as it imposed unequal requirements on girls who wanted to play baseball.
The IHSAA was hardly well positioned to defend its rule since it had already granted Bauduin a waiver a year earlier and was on record allowing Logan to have a waiver this year. Having girls go through a pro forma process to play when boys can just play is discriminatory and would violate Title IX.
The IHSAA had no case. Ress was smart enough to know it even though one wonders why he put himself and the IHSAA in a position where they had to spend time and money in court. Well, sometimes you wonder what an administrator like Ress is thinking. On the other hand, we all err and we're all the product of our biases. Only a very wise administrator like Ress is smart enough to extricate himself from a mess in as graceful a manner as possible. Ress may have failed to act due to his personal biases, but he wasn't the prisoner of those biases. He saved his organization time and money. What was he thinking? He probably wasn't thinking at all in the beginning, but at the end he was thinking the right things. That's why he's in charge.
Ress is taking some heat. After all, the notion that girls can't play baseball is a fairly outdated notion. However, whatever one thinks of Ress's personal views, when push came to shove he made the right administrative move. He dropped his rule, dropped his procedural barriers, and he made the right call: in Indiana a girl can play on a high school baseball team without having to make special applications.
It's very easy for an administrator to defend his or her way of doing business. However, only the wise administrator knows when to stop defending. In the last few years, we've seen some highly thought of administrators refuse to back off on Title IX issues, resulting in multi-million dollar judgments against Fresno State University and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. One may not like Ress's personal views, but he, unlike a number of his counterparts, did not put his organization's finances at risk to defend a position that he could not win. In short, Ress scored by not defending his personal position.