40 years later, Title IX still about fairness

mmccombs@islandpacket.comJune 25, 2012 

About a year ago, while I was working the sports desk at my former newspaper on a weekend night, my wife attended a social function where she became engaged in a conversation with an acquaintance who is the head coach of a nonrevenue men's sport at a Division I school.

The conversation drifted to Title IX, and this is where my wife became appalled. This coach, along with his wife, launched into a lengthy and complete assault against the 37-word portion of a much larger education bill that became law 40 years ago this past Saturday.

Too livid to respond, and, in a rare case of restraint, wise enough to walk away, my wife phoned me at the office to relay what she'd just heard. I was not as surprised as she was to hear what he had to say, but no less disappointed.

"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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

That's it. Pretty straightforward.

Nowhere in the law will you find the word athletics. Yet, there may be no other law that has had as big an impact on sports in America, particularly at the high school and college level. (Were this not the sports section of the newspaper, I'd argue this may have been the most important law passed, period, in the past 40 years.)

According to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, in 1972, only 2 percent of high school and college athletic budgets were for girls and women, and there were virtually no college scholarship opportunities. Many girls were still limited to playing half-court basketball.

Now, females account for almost half of athletic scholarship funding at NCAA Division I schools. High school sports participation for girls has exploded from 300,000 nationwide in 1972 to more than 3,000,000.

If the numbers aren't enough, the landscape of America has changed significantly in that time. Former professional race car driver Lyn St. James points out on an ESPN special about Title IX that in 1972, most women in this country couldn't even get a credit card in their name.

And all those girls playing sports are better off than those who don't. They tend to have higher self esteem, make better grades, are physically healthier and are less likely to become sexually active at an early age.

And those girls have broader college opportunities, not just because the amount of athletic scholarship funding for women's sports has gone up, but because of the educational application of Title IX.

Critics of the law, like the coach mentioned above, would have you believe Title IX will be the death of men's nonrevenue sports. And the fans of every men's wrestling and volleyball program that's been cut in the past 20 years would concur.

But it's simply not true. Because there are several different ways to comply with Title IX, decisions rarely come down to this sport or that. More often, rather than defend unpopular decisions, Title IX is used a as a scapegoat.

When Clemson eliminated its wrestling program, Title IX was given as a reason. The punishment the program was facing from the NCAA for major rules violations wasn't mentioned.

And it's not about the popularity of the sports. The fact that women's basketball is not as popular as men's doesn't change anything.

Compliance with Title IX means that girls and women are offered the same opportunities, both academically and athletically, that their male counterparts have always been offered. Compliance with Title IX means the playing field is being leveled for our sons and daughters--in the classroom and on the athletic fields and courts.

Title IX is about fairness. As a father of a son and a daughter, I hope to see my daughter afforded the same opportunities as my son. I can't imagine it any other way.

That college coach my wife talked to? He has two daughters. I guess he doesn't feel the same way.

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