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espnW: Five Myths About Title IX

Kate Fagan and Luke Cyphers of espnW put together an article detailing five myths about Title IX based upon interviews and research on the progress of gender equity in women's sports that is worth a read.

What follows is a bullet-list summary of the main points and some additional insight on the legislation from a few additional sources.

  • Myth No. 1: Title IX is controversial
  • Myth No. 2: Title IX forces schools to cut men's sports
  • Myth No. 3: Opportunities are now equal
  • Myth No. 4: Schools must spend equally on men's and women's sports
  • Myth No. 5: Men's programs make money; women's programs lose money

Underlying Myth No. 4 is something of conceptual significance that people too often lose sight of when talking about Title IX: the difference between "equality" (equivalence) and "equity" (fairness and/or justice). The two concepts are alluded to repeatedly in the NCAA's own FAQ about what Title IX is, but "equity" is also explicitly stated in what the legislation demands:

Schools comply in athletics by (1) providing equitable participation opportunities, (2) providing athletics financial aid equal to student-athlete participation, and (3) providing equitable benefits to participants. It affects all educational programs in schools.

To further reinforce the point, the National Women's Law Center myth debunker articulates what "equitable" actually means for prongs 1 and 3:

Prong 1: The percentages of male and female athletes are substantially proportionate to the percentages of male and female students enrolled; or
Prong 2
: It has a history and continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or
Prong 3
: Its athletics program fully and effectively accommodates the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

I won't further belabor that point about equity.

Nevertheless, the fairness of this "three-prong test" is often contested. In a recent blog post articulating their position in a case challenging the U.S. Department of Education on Title IX's application to high schools - for which the Title IX Blog provides a legal explanation for why it was dismissed - the American Sports Council offers the following about the practical application of that test:

...theoretically, the three-prong test does imply that yes, there are that many ways to go about this. But with threats of litigation from the NWLC and others, of course schools are only going to choose proportionality. Schools are reacting to a major incentive to show compliance through statistics; their fear of burdensome, money-draining lawsuits during this economic downturn are preventing them from even considering the other two prongs.

The ASC has described a concrete example of the complexities of enforcing Title IX in response to the Arizona Interscholastic Association's decision to add girls' sand volleyball at the high school level to comply with proportionality. Perhaps the most succinct - though admittedly broad - way to state ASC's position on Title IX might be as follows, as written in their March 20 post: "It is imperative that we continue to look for reforms that curtail the unintended consequences of the law's implementation to see the goal of Title IX — preventing discrimination on the basis of gender — fully realized as we celebrate its 40th anniversary."

It's perfectly reasonable to debate the efficacy of Title IX (e.g. "Has it achieved its originally stated goals?" "Is there a better way forward given vastly different landscape of college athletics since 1972?"); it is just important for all of us to understand what it is and isn't - and what those who challenge it or actually aiming for - prior to engaging in that debate.

Fagan & Cyphers note at the beginning of their article that there are whole sections of websites that exist to debunk falsehoods about Title IX. Although we won't necessarily create that, the links above are pretty good resources to get basic facts about the legislation regardless of your position on it and we'll keep a link to this post on the left hand side of our site (in the "NCAA Resources" box) for future reference.

Title IX resources referenced above:

Five myths about Title IX - espnW

Behind the Blue Disk - Title IX -

Debunking the Myths About Title IX and Athletics - National Women's Law Center

Title IX Blog

Saving Sports - The American Sports Council's blog dedicated to reforming Title IX regulations.

Feel free to recommend other relevant resources - from either side of the debate about Title IX - in the comments.