How Title IX Impacted Lives of Women and Leveled the Playing Field for Them in Historically Male-Dominated Sports 

“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.”

How Title IX Came to Be

As might be obvious, the actual wording of Title IX does not specifically refer to athletics at all. However, the above words completely changed the landscape of women’s sports as we know them today.

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and has legally played a role in cases involving sexual harassment, discrimination against the transgendered population, and payscale equality involving men and women working identical jobs. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, which made discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, or nationality illegal, but it did not include discrimination on the basis of sex. 

The politicians involved who acted as the driving forces behind the implementation of Title IX were: Birch Bayh (a Senator from Indiana), Patsy Mink (House of Representatives – Hawaii), Edith Green (Chair of Subcommittee of Education), and former President Richard M. Nixon. 

How was Title IX Implemented in our Educational System? 

Title IX outlines specific rules that benefit girls, and anyone who is harassed or bullied for not conforming to gender stereotypes and who attends a public or private school or university that receives any federal aid funding in order to operate. 

Abiding by the policies dictated by Title IX means that girls are entitled to the same opportunity as boys to attend school, as well as the same opportunities for all extra-curricular programs. To be compliant with Title IX, an academic institution also has to make sure that transgender or non-binary students are protected from discrimination. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX and Sex Discrimination resources, Title IX has been applied to standards in recruitment and admissions to universities, financial assistance, access to course offerings, counseling, faculty and student housing, facilities, campus transportation services, and the treatment of pregnant students.

If there is a Title IX violation reported within an agency that receives federal funding, the individual cannot be harassed, threatened, or retaliated against in any way. 

Some examples of federal funding that a university might receive include grants of federal assistance for construction or renovation, any sort of property that belongs to the government, and scholarships that are earned by students and paid out to the university. 

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for overseeing and enforcing Title IX, as well as educating and guiding Institutions on how to obey the law and remain in compliance. If an Institution violates Title IX, there is a plan in place for steps that need to be taken in order to bring it back into compliance. In the 50 years since the formulation of Title IX, not one institution has ever lost federal funding due to Title IX violations. 

For those who work at these institutions (or any place that receives federal funding), Title IX has made an impact on sex-discrimination based hiring practices, payment, retention, classification, health insurance (including gynecological services), and the overall treatment of female employees. 

Because of Title IX, pregnancy is looked at as a temporary disability, marriage status is not considered within hiring practices, and the pay grade scale lawfully cannot discriminate against women doing equal work for the same amount of time as their male counterparts. Title IX (in law) also protects women from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. 

Legally, there must be a Title IX coordinator in place at every institution and agency that accepts federal funding. This coordinator is a full-time employee who is solely responsible for ensuring the workplace is abiding by Title IX legislation, as well as investigating any complaints, implementing Title IX policies, and working with federal agencies to maintain compliance. Every single person within the workplace must legally have access to the Title IX coordinator’s name, address, phone number, and email address.  

Title IX also affected the number of women admitted to a university, the opening of educational majors and programs to women, and the number of female teachers hired by the university. Not considered before, schools now need to be conscientious in hiring, advancement, promotions, etc. to ensure that women are given an equal opportunity to earn ranking, pay, and positions within the system.

Title IX from the Athletics Perspective

Now, what does all this mean for female athletes who have paved the way for competition and athleticism? And how does it look differently today because of the progress made thanks to Title IX?

Title IX bans sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. This means, before 1972, there was no law stating that men’s and women’s sports needed to be equal in budget, number of participants, coaching salaries, number of university-sponsored teams…nothing. In no way, shape, or form, was it mandated that the two needed to coexist with equality. Not surprisingly, this meant a massive tilt in favor of men’s sports, especially in terms of funding. 

In fact, female teams received about 2% of total athletic budgets, which includes uniforms, facilities, scholarships, and really everything involved in the operation of a team. Not surprisingly, then, opportunities to travel were incredibly limited for women. 

Athletic scholarships for women were quite rare. In the early 1970s, there were approximately 300,000 females in high school and collegiate athletics. In comparison – during that same time period, in high school athletics alone, 3.7 million boys were participating on high school teams

Around the turn of the century, in 1900, women mostly participated in sports at the club level, including tennis, golf, and archery. Only women of a higher economic class, who were members of country clubs were able to participate. There were nearly zero opportunities for lower-income women or women of color. 

In the 1920s, the NAAF (National Amateur Athletic Federation) was formed to have a governing body for intercollegiate competition among women. The overall attitude of the times suggested that an emphasis on winning was frowned upon, playing sports was a sign of homosexuality, any sort of physicality would disrupt a female’s menstruation, and a woman’s place was at home (especially during the World Wars). These kinds of attitudes, thankfully, sound somewhat outlandish in today’s athletic landscape.

Title IX Today

Title IX has made a huge impact in several areas, but something to keep in mind is that there are still cases of inequality and obvious discrimination based on sex that skirt the law. 

The three-prong test that was developed by Title IX to determine ‘opportunity,’ as well as if a university is being Title IX compliant, is as follows: 

  • Proportion: equal number of opportunities for each gender
  • Expansion of the interests of the underrepresented sex
  • Accommodation of the interests of the underrepresented sex

Who utilizes this test to determine if a situation is compatible with Title IX legislation? The U.S. Department of Education does, and only one of the ‘prongs’ needs to be met for compliance. 

There was a 6-year grace period for establishing Title IX at universities. Since then, there have been different interpretations and levels of enforcement by individual university systems. Anytime a school has a men’s sport, but not the female counterpart, that is a Title IX violation. 

Potential violations would also include: mens’ teams being given nicer uniforms or more equipment than womens’ teams, having more favorable practice times and leaving the inconvenient times to the womens’ teams, men being able to utilize better kept and/or newer facilities, or the quality of locker rooms not matching between the two genders. 

Title IX must be constantly monitored and enforced by the Title IX Coordinator at the university, or the U.S. Department of Education. If something escapes the attention of the administration and coordinator, then it is up to the student-athlete or their parents to file a complaint. This can be uncomfortable given that it insinuates an accusation of discrimination, so much so that many student-athletes do not speak up. 

As time has gone on, journalists and athletes with a social media presences have reported on violations of Title IX that have gone viral; creating change and inciting action by their administrations. Famously, at the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, a female player took a picture of a ‘weight room’ set-up that was vastly inferior to the male NCAA counterpart. 

Currently, there are over 3 million female athletes playing on high school and college teams. There is no question that Title IX has created opportunities and massively increased participation within women’s sports. Being able to earn an athletic scholarship created opportunities for a college education that some women would have never had before. Having uniforms and team travel funded by the university meant a higher level of competition was now possible. The largest number of teams available for women at the college level are: basketball (98.8% of schools have a team), volleyball (95.7%), soccer (92%), cross country (90.8%), and softball (89.2%).  

This progress hasn’t come without criticism, though. Title IX has been legally challenged in different cases since its inception in 1972. Many people have become alarmed at the thought of cutting a men’s sport or lessening men’s budgets so that numbers could be equal (for example: with a sport like football that has over 100 roster spots, either more women’s teams need to be added to off-set this, or a men’s sport would need to be cut at the university). 

An ongoing debate for those who oppose Title IX today is focused on transgender athletes and whether or not they should be allowed to participate in a sporting event based on their gender assigned at birth or their gender identity today. 

The bottom line is this: Title IX has absolutely created opportunities for women that were not available before 1972. 

While there is more work to be done to continue to grow opportunities for women in athletics, it was, and continues to be, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that has profoundly affected the lives of generations of women, athletes or not.