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It seems everything these days—especially when it comes to sports—has gone commercial. Stadiums feature corporate names and logos. Taco Bell launched a floating home run target in the bay outside San Francisco's ballpark for the World Series.

Even the Department of Education is getting in on the action. Companies have been providing sponsorship for the department's Title IX commission, which is looking at gender equity in athletics. The 15-member panel, made up of university leaders, athletic directors, and athletes, is meeting to evaluate how Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is working.

For example, Phillips Petroleum Co.—now Conoco Phillips following a merger—sponsored the first meeting, held in Atlanta in August. The most recent meeting, held this month in Colorado Springs, was sponsored by discount retailer Target.

The sponsoring companies foot the bill for lunches, an expense that, according to department spokesman Daniel Langan, the federal government is prohibited from covering. Ron Stanley, a spokesman for Conoco Phillips, said the department approached his company about the sponsorship and the company paid about $5,000, though he was unsure of the exact amount. Mr. Stanley said he did not know what the money was used for, but said his company has a long tradition of sponsoring athletic events.

Using commercial sponsors is a common practice, even for government, said Alex Molnar, the director of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and a leading critic of commercialization in schools. "Our political system has become a plantation for corporate investment," he said.

Such sponsorships raise serious questions, Mr. Molnar said. If the sponsors "really didn't want anything out of it," he said, "you wouldn't know they were doing it." In the case of the Title IX panel, they get their names attached to the idea of gender equity, Mr. Molnar said.

But Cary Groth, the athletic director at Northern Illinois University and a member of the Title IX panel, said the sponsors had no special privileges or access at the meetings. The only evidence of their role, he said, was a poster-size sign outside each of the meetings declaring a particular company's sponsorship.

Companies "like the exposure, but it also ... saves taxpayers money," Ms. Groth said. "I just look at it as a good thing."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 9, Page 27

Published in Print: October 30, 2002, as Federal File

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