Title IX Legislation Marked 40th Anniversary on June 23rd

Title IX is controversial and more complex than most realize. To many it represents what was a long overdue effort to establish gender equity, while others view it as creating an unequal playing field for men. What is indisputable is that the law's effects have been far-reaching.

June 23rd marked the legislation's 40th anniversary. It came into being when President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One portion of that legislation was Title IX, which states that

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education programs or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Numerous educational programs other than athletics have been affected by Title IX, but athletics are a primary focus. What does Title IX actually require? Has the law provided a more equal playing field for women wishing to pursue athletics?

Title IX Requirements. The enforcement of Title IX is the responsibility of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Although the legislation was signed into law in 1972, the regulations implementing the statute did not become effective until July 21, 1975. The OCR later issued an Intercollegiate Athletics Policy Interpretation on December 11, 1979 that served to clarify how the requirements applied to athletic programs. Finally, on January 16, 1996, the OCR issued its "Clarification of Intercollegiate Athletics Policy: The Three-Part Test." It is the first part of the latter (see below) that has been the focus of so much debate.

The OCR's 1979 interpretation outlines three areas that are examined where Title IX compliance is concerned: (1) accommodation of interests and abilities (which pertains to sports offerings and participation rates), (2) athletically related financial assistance (i.e., athletic scholarships, which must be awarded in proportion to the participation of men and women in intercollegiate athletic within one percent), and (3) a host of program support areas: equipment and supplies, game scheduling and practice time, allowances for travel and per diem, tutoring, coaching (including salaries), facilities such as locker rooms and practice and playing areas, medical and training facilities and services, housing and dining services and facilities, publicity, other support services, and student-athlete recruitment.

Participation Rates and Opportunities. Although all of the above areas are subject to examination for compliance, the magnifying glass has often been focused more closely on participation rates, scholarships, and expenditures for operating expenses, recruiting, and coaching for men's and women's teams/players. You can access data reported under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) at the Department of Education web site. The so-called three-part test involves answers to these questions:

  • Proportionality: Are participation opportunities substantially proportionate to enrollments?

  • History and Practice: Is there a history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex?

  • Accommodation of Interest: Is the institution fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex?

Technically, an institution need only be able to provide an affirmative (and acceptable) answer to one of these three questions. However, the focus has most often been on the proportionality prong of the test. That is, do institutions provide "intercollegiate level athletics opportunities for male and female students in numbers substantially proportionate to their full-time undergraduate enrollments?" Examining the answer to that question is not a simple matter, and we won't attempt to address its complexities here.

Has the Law Worked?. Where the participation of women and girls in athletics is concerned, the effects of Title IX are nothing short of dramatic. From 1971-1972 to 2010-2011, the number of women competing in college sports has climbed from about 30,000 to well over 190,000. As the high school level, the change has been even greater, with athletics participation growing from 300,000 girls in 1971-1972 to over 3.1 million in 2010-2011, more than a 10-fold increase. For a recent detailed analysis of the positive effects of Title IX for women and girls in athletics, see the report (PDF) by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

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