Title IX turns 40, still draws ire

Baylor University’s Brittney Griner accepts the 2012 ESPY Award for Female Athlete of the Year. “I?wouldn’t be here without Title IX,” she remarked at the ceremony.

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that vastly increased athletic opportunities for women and changed the course of college athletics forever.

University of Georgia professor Welch Suggs covered controversies surrounding Title IX in the ’90s for the Dallas Business Journal and the SportsBusiness Journal. His 2005 book, “A Place on the Team: The Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX,” is one of the most thorough examinations of the law and its effects on higher education.
What is the biggest misconception about Title IX?

There is very little understanding — even within college athletics — about how, actually, meek the law is. It doesn’t mandate that schools add women’s teams or cut men’s teams. But that’s all anyone ever talks about. It’s an incredibly flexible law.

What does the law mandate?

You must have the same proportion of female athletes as female students, or a history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for women, or you must demonstrate that you’re fully accommodating the interests of women on campus.

Why are their still less women than men in college athletics?

Congress was not specific on how to enforce Title IX. That was largely left up to the courts. If the Department of Education ever got serious about enforcing the letter of the law, it would be prosecuting hundreds if not thousands of schools.

So what forces colleges to comply?

Well, partly, the fact that they could lose their federal funding. But over the years women have had to establish that they have a right to sue under Title IX. … In 1994 they won the right to sue for money damages. That put the fear of God into colleges, and we saw a dramatic expansion of women’s athletics as a result.

Is there continued vocal opposition to Title IX?

Absolutely. Coaches of any non-revenue producing men’s sport will often oppose it. They’ve seen their numbers drop post-Title IX. But I would argue that has more to do with athletes and colleges shifting more toward the revenue-producing sports — basketball and football. Also, people who tend to rail against government intervention have always seen it as mandated government intervention.

Why does Title IX continue to inspire heated debates?

Sports is the only part of education where we specify segregation: men’s teams and women’s teams. You’re not going to have a men’s or women’s geography major. So we are still trying to construct a unique mechanism: What is separate but equal?


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