logoTitle IX: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Jeremy Graff

Since the 1972 conception of Title IX of the Education Amendments, the number of women participating in intercollegiate athletics has increased five-fold, from fewer than 30,000, to more 150,000 in 2001.  However, more than 400 men’s athletics teams have been dismantled since Title IX, the law forbidding sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds, became law.  Some would say this is due, in part, to Title IX enforcement standards like proportionality. Proportionality requires that an institution’s athletic population must be of an equal ratio to its general student body.  Among some of the 400-plus teams dismantled by Title IX are several former Colorado State University teams including wrestling, baseball, gymnastics, men’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis.  CSU student athletes no longer sport the opportunity of participating in these activities at the NCAA Division I level, and the days of the student body rooting for their ram teams are gone, possibly forever.  Now the search is on to find a solution to the problems associated with Title IX if, indeed, a solution is ultimately necessary.

The debate over Title IX is a complex one, with many sides relentlessly attacking each other’s approaches regarding the law.  The Title IX advocates, largely comprised of women’s organizations such as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), take the approach that the law is the major reason women have achieved somewhat equal opportunities in athletics. The NWLC contends that abolishing Title IX would undo years of progress so far achieved.  In sharp contrast with the Title IX advocates are the Title IX opponents, who are largely comprised of the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), along with former coaches and athletes of programs adversely affected by Title IX.  This camp also houses those who believe Title IX simply does not work and individuals who believe the law is now, 30-plus years later, out of date.  Richard Epstein argues that “women no longer need Title IX to be heard loud and clear” thanks to changes in cultural and social norms (35).   The final two approaches fall between the Title IX advocates and the Title IX opponents—the Title IX proportionality reformers and the Title IX enforcement reformers.  Title IX proportionality reformers address the proportionality standards of Title IX, attacking “unfair” tests which demand quotas for female athletic participation. The NWCA also is one of the strongest forces in this camp along with some coaches, athletic directors, and once again, adversely affected former male athletes.  Ruth Conniff includes, in this approach, “girls of the post-Title IX generation, who feel pangs of guilt when Title IX is blamed for the elimination of men’s sports” (22).  The Title IX enforcement reformers argue that universities need more meaningful ways to show compliance than proportionality such as surveys of interest.  This group is composed of some athletic directors, coaches, and former male athletes.

Title IX advocates refuse to give any ground when questions arise about what to do with Title IX.  Doing so, they believe, could unravel the years of forward progress towards women’s equality which Title IX has accomplished in its 31-year history.  Title IX advocates value equality which they designate as proportionate numbers of male and female athletes.   Title IX advocates unanimously credit Title IX for providing the equality which women have enjoyed over recent years.  However, they say that female athletes are still being treated unfairly compared to their male counterparts and are underrepresented in the world of intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics.  Peg Bradley-Doppes, a strong Title IX advocate, supplies the strong advocacy belief that “men still receive more opportunity to participate in athletics” (B7).  According to Bradley-Doppes women account for more than half of the student body at Division I universities, yet receive only 43 percent of athletics-scholarship dollars, 36 percent of athletics operating budgets, and 32 percent of recruiting budgets (B7). 

Title IX advocates also say Title IX has not adversely affected men’s sports in an attempt for equality.  Bradley-Doppes points out that between 1981 and 1998, 36 additional NCAA Division I men’s teams were formed (B7).  Another common belief among Title IX advocates is that Title IX is not the reason men’s athletic teams are dropped.  In a report from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, according to Bradley-Doppes, “Neither Title IX nor its policies, and particularly the three-part, explicitly or in practice require the discontinuation of men’s teams…as long as a school provides equal participation opportunities to men and women” (B7).  The Women’s Sports Foundation, according to Ruth Coniff, says that changing Title IX could result in a loss of 300,000 participation opportunities for women along with a loss of 100 million dollars in athletics scholarships (19).  This would be a disaster for women’s athletics if predictions regarding possible repercussions of changing Title IX held true. Title IX advocates also see a strong correlation between the rise in women’s athletic publicity and Title IX.  According to a Christian Science Monitor editorial, Title IX is the main reason for the rise of women’s athletics “providing for well publicized events like the NCAA Women’s Basketball Finals and women’s athletics in general” (20).   Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, as reported by Jonathan Salant of the Associated Press, reasons “Title IX is not broken, and it does not need to be fixed” (Sports 1).

Title IX opponents defend their claims as fiercely as the Title IX advocates.  Although Title IX opponents acknowledge the good intent of Title IX, they feel strongly that opportunities for women’s athletic participation should not come at the expense of men.  They also value equality, but take a different stand on what they believe equality is: every willing participant having the chance to play.  Title IX opponents say the law has been unjustly interpreted over the past 20 years.  J. Robinson believes “feminist radicals have hijacked the current interpretation” of the law, placing thousands of prospective male athletes on the chopping block (B7).  Robinson points to specific language in the law that says it should not be interpreted to require an institution to provide special treatment in cases where imbalances exist between male and female athletic programs (B7).  Epstein illustrates the popular Title IX opponent belief that “instead of maximizing total participation regardless of sex, Title IX is committed to minimizing the difference in participation by sex” (35).  This means taking away opportunities for men.   Opponents also say that Title IX “instantly creates male queues and female shortages,” according to Epstein (35). This means there are more males searching for a chance to participate in athletics than females are currently able to fill, leaving many male athletes high and dry.  Title IX opponents are also skeptical about whether the law was responsible at all for the recent rise in women’s athletics.  Epstein and George F. Will both agree that changes in social norms since the 1970’s have caused the increased participation seen since the conception of Title IX (35) (82).  Will says, “Cultural change, not Congress, produced the increase in female participation” (82).

Title IX proportionality reformers take a less extreme approach to handling the Title IX woes plaguing athletic departments and athletes nation-wide.  They applaud the effects of Title IX (increased female participation), but believe changes must be made in the proportionality standards which are used to gauge Title IX compliance.   Title IX proportionality reformers value not equal numbers of participants, but providing enough opportunities for men to compete.  According to Charles M. Neinas, it is obvious that “male students are more likely to participate in a sport… than female students” (B8).  Neinas points out that this is also the case in intramural and club sports (B8).  It is on these premises that proportionality reformers seek to alter proportionality standards which keep many men off the playing field.  University of Maryland Athletic Director Deborah Yow, according to Michelle R. Davis, has suggested implementing a 50-50 athletic ratio, regardless of the general student body’s ratio, while providing universities with a five- percent cushion (22).  Another Title IX proportionality reformer idea includes counting only students of traditional college age (18-23) in determining an institution’s proportions of men to women.  Davis argues that this would have a profound effect on calculating proportionality since a “high percentage of older students, many of them women” are likely not to participate in athletics (22).  Dan Gable says, “Let’s keep Title IX, but get rid of proportionality or at least improve the equity of its application so all athletes will have a fair opportunity to participate” (7).

Title IX enforcement reformers say universities need more meaningful ways to show compliance than proportionality.  They value having other legitimate means of proving  Title IX compliance, that are as bulletproof as proportionality.  Currently there are three means of demonstrating Title IX compliance, but  proportionality is currently the only method impervious to legal challenges” (Davis 22). Gable adds that, for universities, “attaining proportionality in athletic programs is the only way to be safe from lawsuits they cannot win” (7).  The other avenues utilized in demonstrating compliance are expanding women’s sports according to on-campus demand, or showing that female athletes have been fully accommodated by existing programs.  Cary Groth, athletic director at Northern Illinois University, says, according to Davis, “She would like to see the Education Department issue more definitive guidance on how schools can meet these tests instead of relying solely on proportionality” (22).  Title IX enforcement reformers argue that official surveys of interest could be used to determine, in conjunction with the two virtually unused compliance methods, whether equal opportunity was realized at our nation’s schools.

Finding a solution for Title IX, if one is needed, is a complex dilemma with four sides boldly holding to their ideals.  Title IX advocates argue that any fundamental changes in Title IX, or its enforcement standards, would have disastrous effects on women’s athletics, which they believe are still far inferior to men’s athletics.  On the other hand, Title IX opponents argue that Title IX is outdated and has been boldly misconstrued and misinterpreted to work against male athletes, furnishing female athletes opportunities at the expense of men.  Another approach, the Title IX proportionality reformers, believe the Title IX woes experienced by men’s athletics can be solved by changing the fundamental enforcement standard of proportionality while, at the same time, preserving opportunities Title IX has afforded women.  The final approach to the debate over Title IX is the Title IX enforcement reformers.  This group believes the solution is to provide schools and universities more concrete methods, other than proportionality, to show Title IX compliance.  With a recent commission ruling which recommends to the Bush administration no changes in current Title IX regulations or enforcement, the debate over Title IX and its enforcement will continue to stir an already tumultuous pot.  And with the continuing debate over Title IX, disbanded CSU sports programs will likely remain only as images of the gloried days past.

Works Cited

Coniff, Ruth. “Title IX: Political Football.” Nation Mar. 2003: 19.

Davis, Michelle R. “Title IX Panel Contemplates Easing Proportionality Test.” Education Week 11 Dec. 2002: 22.


Epstein, Richard A. “Just scrap Title IX.”  National Law Journal 24 (2002): 35


Gable, Dan. “What to do with Title IX.”  Sporting News Feb. 2003: 7.


Robinson, J., Peg Bradley-Doppes, Charles M. Neinas, John R. Thelin, Christine A. Plonsky, and Michael Messner.  “Gender Equity in College Sports: 6 Views.”  Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Dec 2002: B7+.


Salant, Jonathan D. “NCAA president opposes changes to Title IX anti-discrimination law.”  Washington Dateline 4 Mar. 2003: Sports 1.

Will, George F. “A Train Wreck Called Title IX.” Newsweek 27 May 2002: 82.

“Women and sports.” Christian Science Monitor Apr. 1995: 20.