Title IX, the famous 1972 law changed the face of the sports world, empowering women without harming male athletes.

By Quinn Sloan

Pasadena, CA. Summer, 1999. After 120 grueling scoreless minutes, the golden goal overtime period produced the same results. The US Women’s National soccer team and team China headed into penalty kicks.

With the score knotted at 4-4, Brandi Chastain with the chance to send the Chinese side home packing. She approached the box and buried the final PK, the net catching the ball in the top corner.

“The United States women’s national team are your World Cup champions.” The call was heard around the world.

After a disappointing outing in Sweden in 1995, the USWNT decided to enter a soft reset before ’99. Coach DiCicco named his 20-player roster in May of ’99, with a resurgence of youth. The average age: 24.5. Dressing such a young team, the average birth year for the US side was 1975. Consequently, Title IX – part of the Education Amendments of 1972 – went into full effect in ’75.

This team became the Title IX babies.

Title IX, later named the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, is a federal civil rights law in the US that sought to create equality in education for men and women. Mink was a Hawaii-born Japanese-American woman who fought against sexism in education and the workplace. As a culmination of her political work against inequalities, she later co-authored the Title IX Amendment of Higher Education act, with a desire to foster opportunities for women.

The original text, signed in place by President Richard Nixon in 1972 is as follows:

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

Misunderstood?

Enacted as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the initial goal was not to impact sports. In fact, the original statute makes no mention of sports at all. However, the primary association is on the impact of high school and collegiate sports.

While Title IX compliance is a standard to which virtually every school in the country is held, there is still a general misunderstanding. What it is, what it means for athletics, and how a university can be in compliance. To that end, this article is written with the goal of explaining these three issues, as well as what Title IX means for Wheaton College (Illinois).

A common point of confusion is that Title IX is specifically designed for collegiate sports. Before it had any impact on college athletics, it was designed to improve opportunities in education; namely, for youth. In fact, no program that receives any government funding can be without equal opportunity. This means that everything from schools at all levels to parks and YMCAs had to provide equal chances.

While officially signed in 1972, President Nixon gave all government-funded programs three years – until 1975 – to fall in with compliance with Title IX. This means that 1975 was the first year where expansion for women’s sports and opportunities had been completed. YMCAs across the countries added girls’ leagues, and colleges around the country added far more women’s athletic programs.

 Consequently, this was the same year as the average birth year for the 1999 USWNT team. The positive effects for women in athletics are obvious and direct. The Title IX babies became world champions.

Another false idea a lot of men may have is that Title IX has directly hurt men’s opportunities. However, Title IX is not a zero-sum game. The increase in opportunities for women does not mean that men had their opportunities stripped.

In fact, as seen in the graph above, Title IX did little but help both genders in opportunity. While women’s college athletes improved nearly tenfold from the 1971-72 season to 2010-11, men’s college athletes have also risen. Improvement of women’s participation does not mean that men lost opportunities. The idea that Title IX has negative effects for men is misinformed.

How does this play out in sports at different levels?

At the youth level, it means that organizations equally fund and provide both boys and girls leagues. Public middle schools and high schools must be in alignment with the specific instructions provided. The same goes for colleges and universities, where Title IX has been developed to include a measuring stick. This measuring stick is applicable for all schools, and includes a prong system.

Three Prongs

Title IX has three prongs of compliance for schools.

In an interview, Andrew Shubin, lawyer who deals with equal opportunity cases, states: “In issues dealing with whether or not athletics programs are equal among the sexes, the analysis uses a 3-part test.” These tests are applied in stages so that if the school fails the first prong, they will move on to the second, then the third.  He continues, “if the school can pass any of the tests, there is typically no Title IX violation.”

The first prong of Title IX compliance is proportionality. This prong looks to see if the school’s athletic programs have a number of male and female students that is proportional to the student body. This also means that the funding contributed to men’s and women’s sports teams also must be proportional. If a school body is split 50/50 men and women, yet athletic funding is split 70/30 men to women, the school is in violation of the first prong.

 This prong is very difficult for a school to meet, especially if the school has a football program. With the NCAA football roster cap set at 125 players, that is the size of roughly eight NCAA women’s basketball teams. More often than not, a school has way more men in the athletic department (and funding going to those men) than women.

 This is the issue with prong one, plaguing Wheaton College. Thankfully, however, the Thunder can be in compliance with either prong two or three, still following Title IX laws.

Prong two demands expansion for the unequal party. If a school can show a history of expanding opportunities, and proof that they are actively working towards proportionality, they are complying with Title IX.

Finally, if a school fails the proportionality test and shows no evidence of expansion there is one more prong. A school can still be in compliance with Title IX if they show they are already meeting the interest of students. If a school violates the first two, yet shows that the underrepresented gender is satisfied with opportunities, they are still in compliance.

Title IX at Wheaton College

In an interview with Wheaton College AD Julie Davis, she expressed pride in the way her school complies with Title IX. “There are several things that influence Title IX compliance and I feel like we do a wonderful job in fulfilling the spirit of the law,” Davis explains.

“The guiding principle for me is that the student-athlete experience should feel similar program to program.” This includes areas of budget, staffing, access to equipment, equality in time allotted, among others.

AD Davis is very mindful of Title IX compliance, and is guiding our school towards further gender equality. When asked how this equality looks in decision-making, Davis answered, “When we hire for a men’s program, we typically only do so when we have funding for both.”

I got the chance to sit down with former Wheaton College athlete Delaney Young, class of 2020, about her personal experience with Title IX, and how it has granted her more access than possible before. She said:

So I never really lived in a pre-Title IX era, I was fortunate enough that those battles had already been fought long before I was alive. However, I still reaped the benefits – I can remember Boys and Girls Club soccer, as my girls team got to use the field for equal time of the day [compared to boys’ teams]. It is the hard work of lawmakers with little girls like me in mind, to allow for the chances that I got.

The legwork had been completed years before Young would play sports, yet she can see how she has gotten more equal opportunities than ever before.

Where Next?

Title IX, since being passed in 1972 and enforced in ’75 has enabled millions of young girls to play sports. However, the impact does not stop at greater athletic opportunities for women and girls. The heart of Title IX has always been, and still is, to push towards equal opportunity in education. While Title IX has enabled women, this does not mean that men’s opportunities have been stripped. Instead, it seeks to provide greater chances for women.

Title IX is a massive step towards equality, especially in education. However, there are still many areas in which equality has not been reached. Even just in the world of education and sports, there is still a leftover discrepancy – despite our best efforts. Take for example the college basketball playoffs. The men’s tournament is called as March Madness, but the women’s tournament is called Women’s March Madness. This sort of gender marking reveals that there is still a perceived hierarchy of college athletics.

Look also at the example of start times. Wheaton Women’s soccer may start their games sometimes as early as 2 pm, while the men’s team automatically gets placed in the primetime slot, under the lights. What are the factors in the decisions of start time? Attendance? Probably not. Most likely, this is another example of how far we still must come to reach equality in sports.

One of the most important steps we as a society can make is one of proper information. Understanding Title IX better can lead to a healthier discussion surrounding gender and sports. Moreover, healthy conversations about inequality in sports lead to lasting, positive change.

In the pursuit of equality, the work is not finished yet.

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