In 1972, the US Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation requiring that all educational opportunities be equal for men and women. This legislation, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, is perhaps the best known piece of civil rights law in the world. The law states that, “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” (Sec. 1681 a). What this sentence has meant to collegiate athletics over the past 30 years has been of the utmost importance.
Though wide ranging, the most widely applied aspect of Title IX is the requirement that collegiate athletic departments offer the same opportunities for female athletes as they do for male athletes. The result has been a tremendous increase of participants and teams in NCAA women’s sports.
“I think the enforcement of Title IX served as a catalyst for the entire women’s movement, and I’m particularly thrilled with the specific impact it’s had on athletics,” said women’s lacrosse head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “Title IX is the reason why I have my job.”
The NCAA determines compliance with Title XI based on three basic criteria: financial assistance, interest and ability, and the equivalence of benefits and opportunities.
Beyond that requirement, athletic departments that have successfully implemented Title IX have what former Cornell Athletic Director Laing Kennedy ’63 refers to as “equality in philosophy.”
“[This] philosophy includes coaching, facilities, scheduling, support availability, and sports medicine,” said Kennedy.
Currently the Athletic Director at Kent State University, Kennedy served in that same capacity at Cornell from 1983 to 1994.
During his tenure, Cornell added the women’s soccer, softball, and crew teams.
In addition, the athletic facilities used by all Red teams underwent significant capital improvements in order to increase the opportunities available to athletes of both sexes at Cornell. The original field house, Reis Tennis Center, and Oxley Equestrian Center were constructed.
Schoellkopf Field was renovated, with a new press box and turf installed. Alumni Fields, used by many teams for practice, were also upgraded during this time.
“This was the backdrop to provide equal opportunity,” Kennedy recalled, “the same facilities were used for lacrosse and field hockey as for football.”
The Collyer Boathouse on Cayuga Inlet was also built, providing a home for all three of Cornell’s crews.
“We were very committed to providing enrichment to all students,” said Kennedy, who continues that commitment today at Kent State, where many
men’s and women’s teams have reached levels of prominence in the Mid-America Conference.
However, the push towards equality between men’s and women’s sports has hit several bumps along the road. There have been many emotional, public disputes since the passage of Title IX over how to best implement the law and at what cost.
Over 40 lawsuits have been filed against colleges regarding Title IX and alleged civil rights violations.
An example is the 1992 case Jennifer Roberts et al v. Colorado State University. In this case, members of the Colorado State softball team, which was disbanded along with the baseball team due to lack of funding, sued the University on the grounds that the athletic offerings did not adequately meet the needs of female athletes. The softball team was reinstated for the 1994 season after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court’s finding in favor of the softball players. CSU is now recognized as one of the most equitable athletic departments in the NCAA.
Around the time of the Colorado State suit, the Cornell athletic department was forced to cut five teams due to budget restraints. The sprint football, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s fencing teams were all disbanded. After a lawsuit was filed by the women’s gymnastics and fencing teams, those, along with the spring football team were reinstated.
According to Kennedy, the decision to drop those teams was based primarily on the availability of facilities needed to support the programs.
“When sports are dropped or added,” he explained, “they are primarily financial decisions [rather than decisions based on Title IX.]”
Women’s gymnastics coach Paul Beckwith, who was hired in 1994 when the team was reinstated has seen both sides of the issue first hand.
“People think it’s a women’s rights issue, but it’s not,” said Beckwith. “Men can sue under Title IX the same way. They’re granted equal opportunity.”
Formerly the men’s and women’s gymnastics coach at Radford University, Beckwith laments the fact that in part as a result of Title IX, men’s gymnastics teams are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
“[In some cases], the only way to give everybody an equal shake was to eliminate men’s programs,” Beckwith observed, “and that was not the intent of the law. The intent was to increase the opportunities for women, not decrease the opportunities for men.”
In 1992, Brown University was the subject of a lawsuit after the women’s gymnastics and volleyball, and the men’s golf and water polo teams were dropped. The members of the gymnastics and volleyball teams sued on Title IX, and Brown was found in violation of the law because of disparities in female participation rates as compared to total female students. The ultimate ruling was that Brown was required to reinstate the gymnastics team and upgrade the women’s fencing, skiing, and water polo programs to varsity status. The University is currently within Title IX guidelines as long as these measures remain in place.
A spokesperson from the Brown athletic department declined to comment.
A tremendous amount of controversy has surrounded decisions of athletic departments to cut smaller sports in order to continue to support big-name programs. In 1982, there were 79 men’s gymnastics teams on the NCAA varsity level. Last year, that number was 24. Similarly, the number of wrestling teams fell from 363 to 225 in that period. On the flip side, the number of schools sponsoring women’s basketball teams has increased from 705 in 1982 to 995 in 2001. And the number of football programs has increase from 497 to 603.
There is one notable exception to this trend, however. In 1997, Boston University disbanded its football team after years of producing low revenue and drawing poor attendance. Since much of the money spent on the former Division 1-AA team was reallocated to women’s sports at BU, Title IX was immediately blamed.
While the goal of Title IX is to avoid situations such as these by adding more women’s programs to existing men’s programs, this is often not possible.
“When you look at proportionality, and there’s a fixed budget, what do you do?” asks Beckwith.
This question continues to be raised now, 30 years after Title IX was passed.
Archived article by Owen Bochner