25 years after Title IX

A quarter century since the enactment of Title IX, the civil rights legislation calling for equal athletic opportunities for men and women student athletes, it is clear that Lady Frogs have come a long way — but the finish line is still a ways off.

25 years after Title IX

A quarter century since the enactment of Title IX, the civil rights legislation calling for equal athletic opportunities for men and women student athletes, it is clear that Lady Frogs have come a long way — but the finish line is still a ways off.

In 1972, Congress passed a package of education amendments to federal civil rights law.

One section, Title IX, mandated equal opportunity for the sexes across a range of educational issues, but had its most sweeping impact in varsity athletics.

When Title IX was enacted, only about 31,000 women competed at the college level. By 1996, college varsity participation had jumped to 123,000.

But if Title IX’s effect has been sweeping, it has also been controversial. Many colleges simply cannot afford to bring funding for women’s sports up to a comparable level with men’s, so they pay for expanding the former by cutting the latter. Call it “robbing Peter to pay Paula.” From 1995 to 1997, NCAA Divisions I and II added 5,800 female athletes, but cut 20,900 males.

Title IX establishes three criteria for demonstrating gender equity.

— First, the relative number of varsity participation opportunities must be “substantially proportionate” to the institution’s male and female undergraduate enrollments.

— Failing that, the institution must demonstrate a “continuing history of expansion” in varsity opportunities for women.

— Falling short of even that, the institution must show that the “interests and abilities” of women toward varsity athletics are being accommodated.

Critics say the biggest flaw with “substantial proportionality” is the assumption that males and females have a proportionately identical interest in playing varsity. They point to relatively low female participation rates of recent years in high school sports, where women face fewer institutional barriers because there is no big-money interest in men’s programs. For the past 15 years, women have entered high school varsity at a rate of about 3 to 4 percent, while men have entered at double that rate: 6.5 to 8 percent. Two-thirds of the nation’s high school athletes are men.

This would seem to indicate that proportionately more men than women are interested in playing varsity sports. Because Title IX mandates proportionate numerical results where actual gender interests are not proportionate, many say the law is a quota-based affirmative action program in disguise — designed not merely to open the door of opportunity, but to engineer specific statistical outcomes.

The effect of differing sports-interest levels between the sexes is exaggerated at private schools, most of which have majority-female enrollments. Yet, more than 25 years after Title IX was enacted, 91 percent of Division I schools are still not in compliance with “substantial proportionality.” Among the few that are, male students are in the majority. No schools with a majority-female enrollment are in compliance. Most — like TCU, where 59 percent of undergraduates are women — comply with the law through the other criteria defined by Title IX. But federal courts and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights are now pressuring these schools for better progress toward proportionality.

Many complain that “substantial proportionality” also ignores the huge volume of male-designated resources consumed by football. Financially, “have” and “have-not” varsity programs are defined less by gender lines than by sport. At colleges with large, well-maintained football programs, the struggle for athletics resources is felt not only by women’s programs, but by other men’s programs as well.

Yet football is the only genuine money-making sport at about 40 percent of Division I colleges. Football profits are often used to help finance other men’s and women’s sports that operate at a loss. And women’s programs typically run larger deficits than men’s.

In 1995-96, that deficit nationally was $357 million in Division I alone. That same year, men’s Division I programs turned a $252 million profit, mainly due to football. So killing off football tightens the purse strings for all other sports as well.

Even at schools where football is not a money-maker, it serves as a major marketing vehicle. Win or lose, a football team broadcasts a school’s name in places where it would otherwise have no marketing presence, allowing recruitment of students from areas it would normally ignore. While few students choose a college because of its football program, market studies confirm that most students give more serious consideration to schools they’ve heard of before.

Name recognition is particularly critical for private schools, which are not nearly as large, well-known, or financially attractive as state-supported schools. Call it the “Notre Dame principle.” No matter how stellar its academics, a school often gets its recognition through football.

While jettisoning football is not the answer to the gender equity dilemma, neither is abandoning Title IX. Apart from this law, most doors in varsity athletics would remain closed to women. Even now, with all of the progress women have made, they still have far to go. In 1995-96, Division I schools continued to award 62 percent of their $514 million in varsity scholarships to men. They spent nearly three times as much ($407 million to $137 million) recruiting male athletes as female.

So we need Title IX. But we need a Title IX that expands opportunities for women without cutting them for men. One alternative to base the “substantial proportionality” formula not on male and female undergraduate enrollments, but on the actual interest level in varsity participation by male and female undergrads as determined by periodic student surveys.

The means and methods used under Title IX to achieve gender equity must be realistic and reasonable. The only nonnegotiable should be the goal itself — equal opportunity. Every yet-unborn Nancy Lopez, Jennifer Capriati, or Sheryl Swoopes must have opportunity to find her path to greatness.

Dennis Alexander is Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations in University Advancement. Since 1996, he has served on TCU’s steering committee for NCAA Division I certification.

Your comments are welcome


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.