Thirty-five years ago, in June, 1972 (about the time of the Watergate break-in), Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C § 1681 et seq.) into law. The US Department of Justice web site still describes Title IX as “…a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal money to support sexually discriminatory practices in education programs such as sexual harassment and employment discrimination, and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.”
Notwithstanding the DOJ’s description, Title IX mostly is known as the law that made sports, particularly college sports, more accessible to women. Some say that Title IX achieved this goal at the expense of men’s sports. Others say that without Title IX, women’s sports would be forced back to the bad old days (i.e., the time when I was at university) when our athletic opportunities were limited to such events as the intramural field hockey tournament.
I have always considered Title IX a good thing. Never having had the capability to play big time sports (far from it!), I was just an intellectual cheerleader for girl jocks like Mia Hamm and the US Olympic women’s soccer team. In my circle of acquaintances, though, I have found that Title IX is a topic that equals abortion rights in the intensity, emotion and sometimes rage exhibited by its supporters and detractors. Over the last few months, I’ve had some serious, thoughtful discussions with people whose intelligence and ideas I admire, and from these discussions I’ve determined that there are no easy answers. In fact, I’m not sure anyone even knows what the questions are. The fight over Title IX, like the fight over a woman’s right to choose, has taken on a life of its own.
When I started talking to friends about the subject, I was surprised that some of them, who embrace the same liberal political and social tenets I do, had totally different opinions about Title IX. Some felt strongly that enforcement of Title IX has created a situation for men’s sports similar to that faced by women’s sports prior to 1972 – reverse discrimination against men who want to participate in the so-called “non-revenue” sports like wrestling, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis. (It is a fact that the number of programs in these sports has decreased dramatically at US universities and colleges since the early 1990’s.) Others cited statistics indicating that even after 35 years, the amount of resources afforded to women’s collegiate athletics falls far short of those allocated to men’s athletics, and as a result more, not less attention to women’s sports is necessary.
So, after considerable deliberation and internal conflict, I decided to consult someone whom I consider knowledgeable on the subject; someone “on the inside” so to speak. That person was my brother, who is a middle school coach in Georgia. (His school named its new playing field after him – go John!) I asked him to tell me what he thought is the major issue surrounding Title IX at the collegiate level. He said he thought there are two issues, and they both surprised me. One is enrollment demographics, and the other (don’t shoot me) is collegiate football.
The demographic issue is somewhat straightforward, when you think about it. Right or wrong, the measurement method for Title IX compliance used by most schools is based on the number of women participating in sports as a percentage of how many women are enrolled at the school. And guess what? Increasingly, the majority of students enrolled at most colleges and universities are women. Many of the schools that received A’s when the Women’s Sports Foundation this week handed out Title IX “grades” were those like Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University, which still have predominantly male enrollments. Schools like the University of Georgia, where more than 57% of the undergraduate students enrolled are women, received C’s.
And football? “There are usually over 100 players on a Division I-A football team, and 85 of them typically will be on scholarship,” my brother said. “It’s hard to offset that many male athletes in the Title IX equation without sacrificing a men’s sport.” UGA, my brother’s alma mater, dropped men’s gymnastics and wrestling as competitive collegiate sports in the 1990’s. Reasons other than Title IX were given; the school’s athletic director at the time said he dropped the sports because no Southeastern Conference schools had them and so there was no one with which to compete. But many blamed Title IX for the decision.
I’m still puzzling over Title IX. But I leave you with an article written on the thirtieth anniversary of Title IX that frames what I think are some rational thoughts on the subject.
-posted by B Barron