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Report Card - Athletics

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| Progress Reports | Action Agenda | Executive Summary (AAUW web site)


For many, Title IX is synonymous with expanded opportunity in athletics. A tribute to its promise is evidenced by the impressive achievements of the nation's women athletes during the 1996 Olympics and the resurgence of professional women's basketball. Given that women and girls were virtually closed out of most athletic opportunities in schools before Title IX, strides have been made toward equal opportunity for girls and women across the board, progress of importance that extends well beyond the playing field.

A 1997 study commissioned by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports found that girls who play sports have better physical and emotional health than those who do not. Other studies have linked sports participation to reduced incidence of breast cancer and osteoporosis later in life. Yet girls are twice as likely to be inactive as boys and have substantially fewer opportunities and incentives to participate in sports. Much distance remains between the current status of girls and women in sports and the ultimate goal of gender equity.

Participation Rates and Resource Allocation. Women and girls looking for opportunities for athletic competition did not have many resources prior to 1972–for many, the choice was cheerleading or securing a good view in the bleachers as a spectator. In 1971, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in varsity athletics at their high school, comprising a mere one percent of all high school varsity athletes. The outlook for college students was equally grim: before Title IX, fewer than 32,000 women competed in intercollegiate athletics.

Girls' High School Athletics Participation Rates
Year Girls in High School
Varsity Athletics
Percentage of
Varsity Athletes
1971 less than 300,000 1 percent
1996 2.4 million 40 percent

Low participation rates mirrored the lack of commitment to providing athletics programming for women, as evidenced by the small amount of money allocated for such activities. Before Title IX, female college athletes received only 2 percent of overall athletic budgets. Athletic scholarships for women were virtually nonexistent. Title IX's enactment has changed the playing field significantly. By 1996, nearly 2.4 million girls participated in athletics, representing 40 percent of varsity athletes in high school–accounting for a 800 percent increase from 1971 in the number of girls participating. The progress on college campuses also has been impressive. Today, more than 110,000 women compete in intercollegiate sports, accounting for 37 percent of college varsity athletes. The number of female college athletes competing in Division I (the most competitive of the three NCAA Divisions) has increased 22 percent since 1992.

Disparities in Funding Intercollegiate Athletics for 1997
Athletics Expense Men's Sports Women's Sports
Scholarships $1.05 million $634,689
Recruiting $133,303 $49,176
Head Coaches Salaries $303,456 $216,419
Operating Expenses $1.2 million $338,600

While significant, these gains still leave girls and women without their fair share of opportunities to compete. Only 9 percent of Division I colleges provide athletic opportunities for women within 5 percentage points of women's share of enrollment. Even among Division I schools that do not sponsor football, only 16 percent even come close to providing women with athletic opportunities in proportion to women's enrollment in the student body.

Although the resources and benefits allocated to female athletes also have improved significantly since Title IX's passage, they still fall far short of what equity requires.

  • Since Title IX was passed, for every new dollar spent on college sports for women, two new dollars have been spent on college sports for men.
  • According to a 1997 study by the NCAA, female college athletes still receive only 23 percent of athletic operating budgets, 38 percent of athletic scholarship dollars, and 27 percent of the money spent to recruit new athletes.
  • On a per-athlete basis, female athletes received $4,100, $2,000, and $1,900 per student-athlete in Divisions I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA, respectively, compared to the $8,000, $2,400, and $2,500 received by their male counterparts in 1997.
National data on expenditures do not exist for girls' and boys' interscholastic sports, although anecdotal evidence suggests that the disparities are even greater at the elementary/secondary level.

Coaches and Administrators. Female coaches and athletic administrators have not seen anything approaching the level of improved opportunity as have female athletes since Title IX's enactment, backsliding rather than advancing toward equity in many instances. In the early 1970s, women coached 90 percent of women's college teams. By the 1995-1996 school year, women coached only 47.7 percent of women's intercollegiate athletic teams overall, the second lowest total in 19 years. In only 7 of the 24 sports recognized by the NCAA do women hold more than half of the head coaching jobs. High school teams also have seen this decline in women coaches. Compared to the 1970s, when women coaches frequently led girls' high school teams, a 1992 study found that women coached only 36 percent of girls' sports teams. The loss of coaching jobs in women's sports has not been offset by a corresponding increase in opportunities for women to coach men's teams. Women are virtually shut out of these jobs, holding only 2 percent of the coaching positions in men's college sports.

Room for Improvement
  • Since 1972, for every new dollar spent on women's college sports, two new dollars have been spent on men's college sports.
  • The number of women coaches in college athletics is decreasing.
  • Very few colleges provide women with athletic opportunities in proportion to women's enrollment in the student body.
  • Enforcement activity in athletics at every educational level has been virtually nonexistent.

Women's college basketball is the one exception to diminishing coaching opportunities for women. The number of women intercollegiate basketball coaches has been on the rise, with women now holding 64 percent of head coaching jobs–an 11 percent increase over the low of 58.5 percent in 1988. This lone bright spot does little to address the dwindling opportunities for qualified female coaches and the attendant decrease in much needed role models for women athletes.

The impact of sex segregation in the coaching market is exacerbated by the striking disparity in the salaries paid to coaches of men's and women's teams. In men's basketball, for example, the median compensation for coaches is three times that of coaches for women's basketball. Similar inequities exist in coaching salaries for other men's and women's sports.

Title IX Enforcement. The record of Title IX enforcement in interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics in the past 25 years is fair at best, as evidenced by the persistent disparities highlighted above. In 1975, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued general Title IX regulations, which included a requirement of equal athletic opportunity across the board regarding participation opportunities, athletic scholarships, and the treatment and benefits provided to athletes, among other areas. The regulations allowed colleges and high schools a three-year phase-in period, and allowed elementary schools a one-year phase-in period. OCR explained Title IX's requirements and the regulations in greater detail through a Policy Interpretation issued in 1979. However, enforcement was largely nonexistent throughout the 1980s, in part because of the Supreme Court's 1984 decision in Grove City College v. Bell, which limited Title IX's application to specific programs within schools that directly received federal funds (usually not the case for athletic programs), rather than entire institutions receiving federal funds. Congress overturned this decision a few years later.

With the full scope of Title IX restored in 1987, and with colleges responding to budget constraints by cutting already beleaguered women's teams, Title IX enforcement began again. The 1990s have witnessed the creation of a uniform body of law in the courts protecting the right to equal athletic opportunity, despite strenuous objections by defendants that men purportedly are more interested in playing sports than women and therefore deserve greater athletic opportunities. Progress has been made largely on a case-by-case basis, with gains gradual and piecemeal.

Moreover, women's progress, albeit limited, has sparked a backlash by Title IX opponents who have argued to Congress and the media that Title IX has gone 'too far' and has 'hurt' men's sports. After holding hearings on this issue in May of 1995, some members of Congress asked OCR to revisit its 1979 Policy Interpretation and consider whether it should weaken the standards it articulated. In response, OCR strongly affirmed its longstanding interpretation, enhancing it with an explanation of how institutions can and must fully comply with the law.

Beyond this policy statement, it is important for OCR to increase its enforcement activity. OCR conducted only two compliance reviews for intercollegiate athletic programs in 1995, none in 1996, and has announced no plans to conduct any in 1997. While OCR attributes this inaction to the relatively small number of complaints it receives in this area, the number of complaints filed with OCR is a poor indication of the need for enforcement, as few students and parents are aware of Title IX's requirements regarding athletics or have the information required to compare treatment of female and male athletes in their schools. Moreover, the rapidly increasing number of intercollegiate and interscholastic athletic complaints filed with courts in recent years belies OCR's assessment, suggesting that the low level of complaints filed with OCR may have more to do with OCR's inadequate record of enforcement rather than any shortage of grievances. In light of the continuing reluctance of some schools and colleges to provide equal athletic opportunity to their female students and the snail's pace at which others are proceeding, OCR should step up the pace of its enforcement activity.

Grade: C


  • Congress should strengthen the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act to require colleges and universities to provide information on gender equity in their athletic programs to one central government office, which would serve as a repository for the information.
  • Congress should enact a similar sunshine law requiring federally funded high schools to disclose publicly information regarding athletic equity.
  • The NCAA should enact strong measures to push their member institutions toward Title IX compliance, such as capping excessive athletic expenditures to free more resources to expand women's programs.
  • OCR should step up its enforcement in this area by initiating more compliance reviews and increasing its outreach to educate students and educational institutions about what Title IX requires.
  • R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, Women in Intercollegiate Sport; A Longitudinal Study–Nineteen Year Update (1996).
  • Black v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 29 of Cleveland County, Civ–96–1846C (W.D. Okl.) (ongoing case).
  • Erik Brady, 'Colleges Score Low on Gender Equity Test, USA Today, March 3, 1997, p.C1.
  • Bull v. Tulsa Sch. Dist. Civ–96–C–0180H (N.D. Okl.) (ongoing case).
  • Burt v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd., Civil Action No. 94–2217 (W.D. La. Consent Decree, Sept. 26, 1995).
  • Erickson v. Holdredge Public Sch. Dist., No. 4:CV95–3127 (D. Neb. Judgment approving consent decree, Oct. 6, 1995).
  • Fritson v. Fremont Public Sch. Dist., No. 4:CV95–3129 (D. Neb. Judgment approving consent decree, March 1, 1996).
  • Horner v. Kentucky, 43 F.3d 265 (6th Cir. 1994).
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association, Gender Equity Study: Summary of Results (April 1997).
  • National Women's Law Center, 'The Battle for Gender Equity in Athletics in Elementary and Secondary Schools' (fact sheet, May 1996).
  • National Women's Law Center, Breaking Down Barriers: A Legal Guide to Title IX (1994).
  • National Women's Law Center, 'Title IX and Women's Athletic Opportunity: A Nation's Promise Yet to Be Fulfilled' (fact sheet, June 1997).
  • Praster v. North Platte Public Sch. Dist., 4:CV95–3127 (D. Neb. Judgment approving consent decree, Oct. 6, 1995).
  • President's Council on Physical Fitness, Physical Activity and Sport in The Lives of Girls: Physical and Mental Health Dimensions from an Interdisciplinary Approach (under the direction of the Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports, Univ. Of Minnesota, 1997).
  • Randolph v. Owasso Pubic Schools, No. 96–CV–0105K (N.D. Okl. Consent Decree, Oct. 2, 1996).
  • Ridgeway v. Montana High Sch Ass'n, 633 F. Supp. 1564 (D. Mont. 1986), affirmed, 858 F.2d 579 (9th Cir. 1987).
  • Salgado v. Prescott Unified Sch. Dist. No. 1 & Ariz. Interscholastic Ass'n, Inc., filed in U.S. Dist. Ct. In Phoenix, AZ, 1992, Judge Rosenblatt.
  • Thomsen v. Fremont Public Sch. Dist., No. 4:CV95–3124 (D. Neb. Judgment approving consent decree, July 1, 1996).
  • U.S. Department of Education Athletic Guidelines, 'Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; A Policy Interpretation; Title IX and Intercollegiate Athletics,' 44 Fed. Reg. 71,413 (1979).
  • U.S. General Accounting Office, Report to the Honorable Cardiss Collins, U.S. House of Representatives, 'Intercollegiate Athletics; Status of Efforts to Promote Gender Equity' (October 1996).
  • USA Today, 'Study Reveals Sports Beneficial to Women,' March 28, 1997, p.6C.
  • 'Women in Division I Sports Programs: The Glass is Half Empty and Half Full,' The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 11, 1997, A–39.



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