Title IX at 50: The Work Continues

Jun 17, 2022

By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., Senior Writer & Professor, Sports Media, Roy H. Park School of Communication, Ithaca College, staurows@ithaca.edu

In a recent keynote address to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Inclusion Forum, legend and icon Billie Jean King reflected on the state of Title IX and women’s sport.  Speaking about the nature of progress, the tenuous security of the rights that Americans have, and the need to be ever vigilant in protecting those rights, she drew upon the words of Coretta Scott King noting that “Struggle is a never-ending process.  Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation”.

Fifty years have gone by since Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was passed.  Recent reports conducted in anticipation of Title IX’s 50th anniversary on June 23, 2022 by the Women’s Sports Foundation (Staurowsky et al., 2022), the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Howard Center for Investigative Journalism (Newhouse 2022a, 2022b), USA Today (Staff, 2022), and the NCAA (Wilson, pending) all reach the same conclusion.  The struggle for girl and women athletes to be treated equally under Title IX is thus far a never-ending process.  Each generation of girls and women in school sports have had to challenge school authorities to earn and win the freedom to compete unencumbered by gender discrimination. While Title IX has served as a catalyst to promote progress for girls and women in terms of athletic opportunities, access to athletic scholarships, and attendant operating budget allocations to support participation (recruiting, coach salaries as examples), there is much more work to be done to achieve gender equality within athletic departments sponsored by federally funded schools at the post-secondary and college level. 

When Girl & Women Athletes Win Their Title IX Rights, the Nation Wins

Over the past 50 years, Title IX has had a profound effect on the opportunities for girls and women to participate in athletics.   In 1972, the year of Title IX’s passage, 7% of high school varsity athletes were girls (294,015).  By 2018-2019, the most recent reporting year, 3,402,733 girls (43%) were competing on varsity high school teams.   According to NCAA statistics, women’s participation in college athletics rose from 15% in 1972 to 44% during the 2020-2021 academic year. 

The removal of barriers to participation for girl and women athletes strengthens the nation’s overall sport system, yielding benefits in terms of long-term health consequences (Staurowsky et al., 2020) as well as setting the stage for athletic excellence on the world stage.  As a case in point, if the women of Team USA had competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as their own country, their total medal count of 66 would have placed them third behind the Russian Olympic Committee and China (Planos, 2021). 

Shortfalls in Athletic Participation Opportunities, Athletic Scholarships, and Resources

Under Title IX regulations, specifically the three-part test, athletic participation opportunities for girls and women athletes should be proportional to enrollment (if 50% of undergraduates are women; 50% of existing athletic opportunities should be available to women).   If athletic opportunities are not offered proportionally, a school needs to demonstrate that it has a record of adding sports systematically and on a regular basis or athletic programs offered to girls and women fully and effectively satisfy existing needs and interests.  Using information reported by colleges and universities in accordance with the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act for the 2019-2020 academic year, Staurowsky et al (2022) found the following:

  • At 2,074 two-and four-year post-secondary institutions that reported data, women athletes had access to 43% of athletic opportunities offered by their institutions.  When compared to the representation of women undergraduates at those institutions, who made up 54.5% of overall enrollment, women athletes were disproportionately underrepresented in athletics.  In order to close that nearly 12 percentage point gap, an additional 81,389 athletic opportunities would need to be added. 
  • Among NCAA institutions across all divisions 86% offered higher rates of athletic opportunities to men athletes disproportionate to their enrollment. For the 2019-20 academic year, that gap favoring men athletes represented 58,913 missed opportunities for women athletes.
  • Only 94 of the 1,089 NCAA (8.6%) schools reporting met the proportionality standard for participation under the three-part test, offering men and women athletic opportunities proportional to enrollment.  Fifty-five (55) institutions or 5% of institutions provided athletic opportunities to women athletes at rates beyond their representation in the student body. 
  • Only 18.8% of NCAA Division I institutions (66 of 350); 5.7% of NCAA Division II institutions (18 of 312); and 3% of NCAA Division III institutions (14 of 427) offered athletic opportunities to female athletes proportional to their enrollment.

At the high school level, data from the 2018-2019 academic year reported by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) revealed that girl athletes receive disproportionately fewer athletic opportunities compared to boy athletes.  While girls made up 51% of high school enrollment that year, only 43% of athletic opportunities were allocated to girl athletes.  Addressing that gap would require adding approximately a million athletic opportunities for girls (Staurowsky et al., 2022).

While compliance is determined on a case-by-case basis and EADA data offer insights but not definitive measures of compliance, the growth of girls and women’s sport over the span of the last five decades makes it more difficult for school administrators to persuasively explain why there are shortfalls in athletic opportunities.  Arguments that schools cannot afford to offer athletic opportunities proportional to enrollment run aground because numerous courts have determined lack of funding is not an excuse to justify a failure to address gender discrimination.

Beyond shortfalls in athletic participation opportunities, inequities in the allocations of athletic scholarships and budget allocations are sweeping.  EADA reports for 2019-2020 revealed that

  • men athletes received $252 million more in athletic scholarships than women athletes received. If athletic departments offered athletic opportunities to women athletes proportional to enrollment, they would have had to award an additional $750 million in athletic scholarship assistance
  • of the $241,400,778 spent on recruiting athletic talent to compete at the college level (in both two-year and four-year institutions). Of that total, only 30% was spent on recruiting women athletes ($75,290,142).
  • on average, coaches of women’s teams received a much smaller percentage of salary compared to coaches of men’s teams, ranging from 19% in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly known as Division I-A) to 49% in NJCAA Division I (Staurowsky et al., 2022).

Uneven Enforcement & Lack of Title IX Knowledge

In a recent interview with ESPN, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miquel Cardona was asked about the challenges associated with enforcement, among them being the fact that the federal government has never proactively initiated a lawsuit against a school.  He commented that the focus of his administration was on building a culture of compliance that includes students, families, educators, and administrators because it was unrealistic, with the limited resources available to the Office of Civil Rights (the office charged with Title IX oversight) and a limited number of investigators, to handle the full expanse of enforcement needs across all agencies and schools that Title IX covers (Murphy, 2022).

Responding to that approach, long-time Title IX litigator, Arthur Bryant, observed It would be great to build the culture, but he’s kidding himself if he thinks that’s what’s going to do it. Does the police officer by the side of the road as people are going by at 100 miles per hour say, ‘I’m trying to build a culture where people will stop speeding’? No. You pull over people violating the law and you hold them accountable. …The way you build the culture of compliance is you enforce the law” (as quoted in Murphy, 2022).

In theory, local Title IX athletics enforcement is to be overseen by a Title IX coordinator appointed by each institution, which is a federal requirement.  For decades, schools either ignored that mandate, appointed someone in name only, or were unaware of their obligation.  While there has been more attention and resources directed toward Title IX coordinator positions on college and university campuses since 2011, those resources have largely been directed toward addressing the critical issue of sexual harassment and assault.  And Title IX coordinator roles are expansive, including monitoring Title IX compliance, creating policies and procedures for reporting, conducting investigations and reviews, and educating campus constituencies. 

How prepared Title IX coordinators are to fulfill their obligations in overseeing athletics is up for question.  According to Nowicki (2018), a survey of Title IX trainers revealed that those serving in Title IX coordinator roles in high school settings had little familiarity with how Title IX applied to athletics.  In a study of people charged with Title IX compliance in Power Five athletic departments (n=90), 60% indicated that taking on the role was a default assignment because they were a woman administrator.  Of those serving in a Title IX athletics compliance role, only a third had specific training prior to taking on the responsibility (Staurowsky & Rhoads, 2020). 

Thus, there are significant hurdles to building the kind of compliance culture that Secretary Cardona talks about.  Ideally, it makes sense to conceive of a fully functioning Title IX compliance infrastructure that is locally based because the more proactive schools are in fulfilling their compliance obligations under Title IX and the more accessible avenues are in terms of identifying problems and hearing complaints, the quicker gender discrimination can be addressed.  Compelling as that is in theory, in practice, the lack of consistent enforcement has resulted in the very constituencies that should be empowered to hold school administrators accountable (athletes, parents, coaches, and even athletics administrators) evidence low levels of understanding or even knowledge about the law (Staurowsky et al., 2022).

In a poll conducted by Ipsos for The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland in 2022, “nearly three-quarters of secondary school students and nearly 60% of parents said they know ‘nothing at all’ about the landmark civil rights law meant to ensure gender equity in education, including athletics” (Newhouse, 2022).

Further, as Staurowsky and Rhoads (2020) reported, there is little investment or effort in educating athletes and coaches about Title IX.  Among Power Five compliance officers, 51% indicated that funding support for Title IX education efforts was fair to poor; 45% indicated that funding support to attend trainings was fair to poor; 49% indicated that workload allocations to do the job was fair to poor; and  49% reported that Title IX resources were not available to athletes on the athletics website.  When it comes to educating athletes and coaches about how to read an EADA report, only 2-3% of Title IX athletics coordinators offered such education.

The Future

When Billie Jean King was asked at the 2022 NCAA Inclusion Forum about what steps should be taken to address the shortfalls that exist in Title IX athletics compliance moving forward, she commented that schools would be better served to willingly comply with the law rather than resisting it.  She also said that “Presidents need to search their souls”.  Both Cardona and King are speaking to the need for educational leaders to step up and use the power of their positions to establish a compliance culture around Title IX in athletics that is proactive rather than reactive.

What 50 years of Title IX athletics history suggests, however, it is that it will take much more than just that.  Among the recommendations that the Women’s Sports Foundation is offering in this 50th anniversary year are the following:

  • that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) be fully funded to strengthen their Title IX enforcement efforts
  • that the OCR initiate compliance reviews across larger sets of institutions and provide greater technical assistance with emerging questions and issues
  • that Federal policymakers pursue passage of the Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act of 2021 (H.R. 4097 & S.2186). This bill recognizes the need to provide more resources, training, and technical assistance to schools to ensure compliance with Title IX.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should develop a federal reporting system that requires schools to publicly disclose a) which part of Title IX’s three-part test for athletic participation they are using to comply; and, if appropriate, collect b) information regarding their history and continuing practice of program expansion and/or c) the methods used to fully and effectively meet the needs and interests of qualified women athletes.
  • The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should adjust the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) and its regulations so that the annual data it requests on its form fully encompass the practices of athletics departments in order to comprehensively assess gender equity practices, including the reporting of information about an institution’s athletics-related capital as well as operating expenses.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should establish an external audit system to promote public confidence in and full accuracy of EADA reports.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should require critical institutional representatives (e.g., Title IX compliance offers, Directors of Athletics, etc.) to participate in annual Title IX training to ensure that those charged with implementing it within their institutions are fully knowledgeable of policy requirements and their role(s) in implementation.
  • The Office for Civil Rights should create a one-stop website for school personnel, families, and students to understand and apply Title IX athletics standards in an easy-to-digest manner (adapted from Fair Play for Girls in Sport, Legal Aid at Work (K. Turner, 2021).

For a full list of recommendations, see the full WSF report (Staurowsky et al., 2022). . https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/articles_and_report/50-years-of-title-ix-were-not-done-yet/

References

Murphy, D. (2022, June 14). A coxswain, the courts and a course toward Title IX compliance. ESPN.com. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/34071621/a-coxswain-courts-course-title-ix-compliance

Newhouse, K. (2022a, April 11). Federal Title IX data on sports participation is unreliable. CNSMaryland.org. https://cnsmaryland.org/2022/04/11/title-ix-federal-sports-data/

Newhouse, K. (2022b, April 11). Poll: Most parents, students know “nothing at all” about Title IX. CNSMaryland.org. https://cnsmaryland.org/2022/04/11/title-ix-poll/

Nowicki, J. (2018). High school sports: Many schools encouraged equal opportunities, but further education could help athletics administrators under Title IX. United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-18-425.pdf

Planos, J. (2021, August 9). What do 60 percent of America’s gold medals from Tokyo have in common? Fivethirtyeight.com. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/american-women-stolethe-show-in-tokyo/

Staurowsky, E. J., C.L., Flowers, E. Busuvis, L. Darvin, & Welch, N. (2022). “50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet,” New York, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation. © 2022, Women’s Sports Foundation, All Rights Reserved. https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/articles_and_report/50-years-of-title-ix-were-not-done-yet/

Staurowsky, E. J., & Rhoads, A. (2020). Title IX coordinators in NCAA Division I institutions: Roles, responsibilities, and potential conflicts of interest. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 13, 381-404. http://csri-jiia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/RA_2020_18.pdf

Staurowsky, E. J., Watanabe, N., Cooper, J., Cooky, C., Lough, N., Paule-Koba, A., Pharr, J., Williams, S., Cummings, S., Issokson-Silver, K., & Snyder, M. (2020). Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women. New York, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.

USA Today. (Staff). Title IX: Falling short at 50. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2022/05/26/title-ix-falling-short-50-exposes-how-colleges-still-fail-women/9722521002/

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