By Vanessa Overbeck
By Vanessa Overbeck
In 1972 the lives of women became rich with opportunities never before afforded them.
The landmark legislation, Title IX, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender at educational institutions that receive federal funds. Title IX leveled the playing field of this nation’s schools and changed the perception of the place of women. It is the most important piece of legislation for women since the right to vote.
More than thirty years after the passage of Title IX, more women than ever before graduate high school, obtain bachelor and professional degrees, and participate in athletics. The rise of women’s basketball, soccer and softball illustrates the dramatic changes that have taken place.
Dot Richardson, captain of the American Olympic softball team, who left her victory in Atlanta to begin her medical residency, exemplifies just what was accomplished on and off the field as a result of Title IX.
Women who participate in athletics learn to control anger and anxiety, take criticism, overcome shyness and be assertive. They have greater confidence and selfesteem. Sports also empower women, giving them a sense of the strength of their collective selves.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 87 percent of today’s parents accept the idea that sports are equally important for both boys and girls. This signifies that we are finally moving beyond the idea that gender is an accurate “predictor of one’s interests. . .or athletic ability,” noted the First Circuit Court of Appeals in a recent Title IX case.
When young, boys and girls are equally interested in sports. But a lack ofopportunity and peer group support causes women to drop out of sports at a rate six times that of men.
Operating under the false belief that women cannot perform at the same level as their larger, stronger counterparts, peer groups often ridicule women athletes. But few sports require absolute strength or power. Skill, a combination of accuracy and coordination, is an essential element to all athletics. And women happen to be better than men in most fine motor skills.
However, the bottom line is that differences in strength, power, skill and coordination between men and women don’t really matter, because in most sports men and women do not compete against each other. Besides, we should view the female athlete the same way we do the lightweight boxer. The man who wins the lightest weight class is no less a champion than the heavyweight. He is admired for his skill and ability in the ring against similar competition.
Title IX is not just about athletics. Before 1972 colleges could refuse admittance to women solely based on gender. It also protects women from suspension, expulsion or discrimination in educational programs and activities due to their status as mothers. Furthermore, the realm of math and science has opened to women and they are now more likely to take more sophisticated mathematics and science courses.
However, not all the effects of Title IX have been positive or well-received. Critics of Title IX focus their displeasure on the three-part “test” applied to educational institutions. They must be in compliance with one part of the test. The first test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are “substantially proportionate” to their respective enrollments.
The second test is if an institution has a history and continuing practice of meeting the developing interest of women through program expansion.
A school passes the third test by meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even when there are disproportionately fewer women participating in sports.
Most schools choose to comply with Title IX by the first test as this is primarily what investigators look for. However, as there is no counterpart for football in women’s sports, it is nearly impossible to establish equality between the sexes without creating inequality.
Sadly, many athletic directors see Title IX as an opportunity to save a buck instead of as a chance to change society. They do the math and cut men’s teams rather than add women’s teams in order to balance the equation. But the purpose of the law is to bring the disadvantaged population up to the level of the advantaged population, not to treat male athletes in minor sports like female athletes who weren’t given a chance to play.
Reducing men’s sports isn’t necessary and is contrary to the goals of Title IX. Institutions can choose to keep all men’s sports by lowering spending on sports with the largest operating budgets. But institutions are not doing this because they are reluctant to take resources from “revenue producing sports,” such as football and basketball, and put them into women’s sports. However, it is actually a myth that football makes money. In all but the seven top universities, football programs spend more than they produce. The solution to affording Title IX compliance is for every sport to tighten its belt so that everyone can continue to play.
Under Title IX, football also skews the number of scholarships awarded to men and women, as well as the salaries of coaches. It requires that an equal number of scholarships be awarded to men and women. But due to the numerous players on a football team, there are fewer scholarships available to other male sports. This means that, for example, a men’s soccer team may offer seven scholarships while a women’s soccer team can offer nine because overall, there are less total women in the sports program.
Salaries are also skewed because football coaches receive much larger sums than other coaches. This leaves less to distribute among the other male coaches, which often results in coaches of men’s sports earning less than coaches of women’s sports.
The head coach of a local, collegiate men’s soccer team suggested that football, since there is no counterpart in women’s sports, should be considered a separate entity and not be included under Title IX. This would reduce the current trend of cutting men’s sports, such as wrestling, and restore gender equality in scholarship distribution and coaching salaries.
As the NCAA already restricts the amount of money that colleges can spend on football programs, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves whether Title IX is still helping to achieve gender equality in athletics. If it is not, then like any law, it must be reevaluated and redefined to fit our changing society and culture.
More than thirty years ago America began the long journey towards gender equality. It has not been an easy task. Some colleges faced budgetary restraints and others are simply reluctant to change the status quo. There have been peaks and valleys along the way; we have moved forward, but we cannot deny that we have a long way still to go.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 80 percent of all schools and colleges are still not in compliance with Title IX even after 30 years. Although women earn half of all college degrees, they are less likely than men to earn degrees in computer science, engineering, physical sciences and mathematics. And at the high school level, there are still about 24,000 more men’s varsity teams than women’s.
In college, women receive only one-third of all athletic scholarships, and though they account for 50 percent of the college population, they still only receive 36 percent of all sports money. But given the fact that no federal court has ever ruled against Title IX’s athletic provisions, it is clear that we must find positive ways to comply with the law.