Title IX Tantrum

New report concerning federal law barring sex discrimination and its impact on college athletics reignites debate between advocacy groups and their critics.
September 24, 2008

The debate concerning the enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 -- the federal statue banning sexual discrimination in education -- and its effect on college athletics has long been a contentious one. Following today's release of a Women’s Sports Foundation study concerning participation levels for male and female athletes during the past decade, don’t expect the argument to end any time soon.

The sports foundation hopes the study will put to bed what it says are false claims by some critics that Title IX has led to a decrease in male participation in college sports. Critics of the foundation, however, argue that the recent study is nothing more than repackaging of misleading data, ignoring what some see as the problems of gender-quota enforcement of the statute.

Institutions can achieve Title IX compliance if its athletics program has a population of male and female athletes proportional to the population of male and female undergraduate students enrolled. Still, an institution does not need to meet this quota if it has a history of expanding athletic programs to meet the needs and interests of the underrepresented gender or it appears to meet such demand already. Critics often take issue with the proportionality option to meet the standard of Title IX and not the spirit of the statute itself.

Chief among the major findings of the study, the women's sports group asserts that both men’s and women’s participation levels in college athletics have increased during the last 25 years. Evaluating Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) data -- required of all institutions participating in intercollegiate athletics by the Department of Education -- and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) data, the study notes that men’s participation on intercollegiate teams increased by about 6 percent between 1995-96 and 2004-5. By comparison, the study states that women’s participation increased by more than 20 percent during the same period. It also notes that although women’s participation has slowed in recent years, the gap between male and female participation has not substantially changed in the years since 2000-01, when the annual growth in female participation has averaged at around 1.5 percent a year.

The study also argues that colleges and universities have largely responded to Title IX by increasing female participation in their athletics programs rather than by decreasing male participation. In one example, the study notes that institutions that were not in compliance with the statute in 1995-96 were more likely to add female athletes during the next nine years than those institutions which were either in compliance with Title IX or closer to it. Additionally, those same institutions were also less likely to eliminate slots for male athletes than those other institutions during the same time period.

Marj Snyder, chief planning and programming officer at the foundation, said what she characterizes as the “Title IX blame game” must cease.

“It’s just become an easy whipping boy,” Snyder said. “It’s a lot easier to blame Title IX than it is to tell the men’s football and basketball coach to do some cost control. … There are a number of ways to improve gender equity and one of the primary ways it happens is by adding female athletes and not decreasing male athletes. To characterize all adding and dropping of sports [as] because of Title IX is inaccurate.”

In its final major point, the study argues that the earliest growth in women’s athletic programs favored sports that had the highest levels of racial and ethnic diversity. Now, the study states, more recent growth in women’s athletics favors sports with less diversity. Snyder said this trend affects black female athletes most as they are considerably segregated by sport. The study notes that almost 68 percent of black females participate in either track and field or basketball.

The College Sports Council, a group that advocates for Title IX changes on behalf of male athletes and men’s sports teams, challenges many aspects of the sports foundation's study. Jim McCarthy, a council spokesman, said he believes this report is a “copycat” analysis of a study it did last year, which analyzed similar data but reached a different conclusion. He argues that men’s participation has declined since the introduction of the federal statute. The sports foundations' close relationship with the NCAA makes this data suspect to critics like McCarthy.

He said data are available only in the aggregate from the NCAA in comparison to the individual institutional assessment garnered by the Department of Education. He argues this use of aggregate data, which cannot be verified, can often be used to form misleading conclusions.

“They’re trying to paper over the drastic harms that proportionality has caused in men’s athletics,” McCarthy said. “This activist group has pushed for years with the NCAA for the proportionality quota. This has decimated men’s participation and men’s teams that have to endure artificial quotas. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Additionally, McCarthy said the study fails to discuss the nature in which Title IX has distorted women’s athletics. He said small-roster sports teams, some with traditionally high participation, are being abandoned for large-roster sports teams that often do not have significant participation among high school women. Gymnastics teams, for example, might be eliminated to introduce a women’s rowing or ice hockey team simply to increase the number of female athletes in a program.

“You can slice the data in different ways to show different levels of harm,” McCarthy said. “It seems apparent to us that the data is inaccurate.”


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