Twenty-Five Years After Title IX: Women Gain in Steps, Not Leaps

Richmond Rage and Columbus QuestTitle IX has led women into sports arenas previously unimaginable. The American Basketball League showcases professional women athletes, such as the women of the Richmond (Va.) Rage and the Columbus (Ohio) Quest pictured. Photo by Melinda Shelton.

by Linda Joplin,
Chair, California NOW Athletic Equity Committee

When Congress passed Title IX in 1972, very few opportunities existed for girls and women to participate in high school and college athletics. To get the ball rolling toward equity, Title IX was signed into law, affecting all schools that receive federal funding of any sort, whether for school lunches or student financial aid.

Universities and colleges were given until 1978 to comply, yet delay tactics, lawsuits and ambiguities in interpreting the law benched that deadline.

To comply with Title IX an athletic department is required to meet at least one of these requirements:

After some progress in the '70s and early '80s, a small college in Grove City, Pa., derailed Title IX in 1984. College officials refused to sign a Title IX compliance statement, citing unwanted entanglement with the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the college, and for several years only the actual program receiving federal funds, and not the entire educational institution, was prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex.

Finally, after much lobbying from NOW and other supporters, Congress overrode a Reagan veto and passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, reiterating the original intent of Title IX to prohibit discrimination in schools receiving any federal tax dollars. NOW was also instrumental in ensuring that the Supreme Court's interpretation in Grove City would not spill over into other laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, age or disability.

Historic Growth Continues

Though the National Collegiate Athletic Association did everything it could to block Title IX during the 1970s and '80s, the association has made great strides in the '90s. At the urging of the National Association of College Women's Athletic Directors, the NCAA conducted a gender equity study in 1992. As a result, equity issues are now a part of NCAA membership certification, and the group holds workshops on Title IX compliance.

Also in 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs filing Title IX lawsuits may seek compensatory damages and, if the discrimination is intentional, punitive damages. The cost of withholding athletic opportunities has potentially become very high.

Title IX has impacted women athletes. More U.S. women than ever before competed at last year's Olympics, and women's teams won gold medals in gymnastics, basketball, soccer and softball. Two women's professional basketball leagues launched their inaugural seasons this year, and professional soccer and softball leagues are in the planning stages. And improvements continue from grade school through college.

However, despite the gains in access to athletic participation for girls and women, athletic equity is not a reality. In a series of stories marking the 25th anniversary of Title IX, USA Today surveyed 303 Division I schools and found that since 1992, the number of women athletes has increased 22 percent to 43,712 in 1995-96. But they also found that "for every $1 spent on women's college sports, $3 is spent on men's," with women receiving only 38 percent of scholarship funds and 27 percent of recruiting funds.

NOW Picks Up the Ball

Such discrimination in athletic programs -- in violation of a state law requiring progress toward equality -- existed within the 19-campus California State University system, so California NOW filed a lawsuit in 1993. The state organization cited a decline of female participants from 36 percent to 30 percent during a 13-year period.

Nine months later the state organization entered into a consent decree requiring that by 1998-99, participation of women on each campus must be within five points of the percentage of NCAA-eligible women among the school's undergraduates, expenditures for women must be within 10 percent of the school's enrollment of women, and athletic scholarships within five percent of women's enrollment.

Participation rates within the system have improved from 30 percent women at the time of the suit to 41 percent women in '95-'96. Athletic expenditures likewise have improved from 25 percent for women to 38 percent, and women now receive 42 percent of the athletic scholarships.

In 1995 California NOW took action again, this time filing a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights seeking an investigation of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. The Office for Civil Rights determined that the district was not "effectively accommodating the athletic interest and abilities" of female students because of disparities in the number of female athletes and athletic opportunities for girls.

The school district agreed in December 1996 to a Voluntary Resolution Plan. As a result, a wider variety of sports have been added in some schools to accommodate girls, including water polo, golf, basketball and volleyball.

Other NOW chapters or activists can also file Title IX complaints. To determine if your local schools and colleges comply with Title IX, request a copy of California NOW's Athletic Equity Questions. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to 926 J Street, Suite 523, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Additional Title IX information is available from the Women's Sports Foundation at Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, NY 11554, or its Website at, or by calling 800-227-3988.

Christine Grant, women's athletic director at the University of Iowa, has another useful Website on Title IX --

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