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Title IX: An ongoing battle

Taking a look at the history of Title IX and the instances where gender inequity in college sports has persisted.

Syndication: The Register Guard
Sedona Prince
Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Title IX, passed in 1972, was the beginning of women’s sports in the United States as we know them today. At universities, it led to the creation of women’s teams for those interested in sports that had a men’s team, and women’s basketball started being taken more seriously. This led to women’s basketball becoming an Olympic sport in 1976. Then, in the 90s, the increasing popularity of both women’s college and Olympic basketball led to the creation of the WNBA in 1997.

University of Virginia Cavaliers vs University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Before they became the first NCAAW D1 dynasty, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers joined the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1974, two years after the passing of Title IX.
Photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Allsport/Getty Images

So it all traces back to Title IX. Countless women in so many different sports have gotten the chance to compete at the college level because of Title IX. They were able to pursue their passions and gain leadership skills that are invaluable in any workplace. This is why, 50 years later, we are celebrating Title IX as a gigantic step forward in the battle against sexism in sports. For the law’s 50th anniversary, ESPN is making a series of documentaries related to Title IX, called the ESPN 50 Campaign.

Title IX was undoubtedly successful at creating change. It created the college teams, which led to the increase in popularity, which led to at least some players being able to make a living playing sports professionally in the U.S. Only so many athletes have ever won a national championship, but even just competing at what is close to the highest level in the world for your sport and creating unforgettable memories with your teammates is something Title IX beneficiaries will always cherish. But the ultimate goal of Title IX — pure equality — is something that has not been reached. It shouldn’t even be a goal that is to be achieved over time because it is inherent within the law the way it was written in 1972. However, the law hasn’t been upheld to the fullest degree.

Men’s sports still get more scholarship money than women’s sports and there are still more male participants in college sports than female participants. In 1992, after 20 years of Title IX, the discrepancy was so great that men made up 70 percent of participants and accounted for 70 percent of scholarship money, 77 percent of operating budgets and 83 percent of recruiting money. In addition more than half of women’s teams had male head coaches at that time.

According to ncaa.org, men’s sports are allowed to spend more on equipment if more equipment is required. Football would be a good example of this. However, under Title IX, schools are not supposed to base their spending on which sports are bringing in more money.

Just two years after Title IX was passed, there were already people trying to legally free revenue sports from the equation. The Tower Amendment proposed just that, but was rejected.

Then, in 1984, the court case Grove City v. Bell actually took away nearly all of Title IX’s power, except for when it came to equality in scholarships, which we know hasn’t always been equal anyway. Fortunately, The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 reversed Grove City v. Bell.

In our recent memories, one instance of inequity occurred at the 2021 NCAAW Tournament bubble in Texas. Sedona Prince famously went viral with a TikTok video that exposed a women’s weight room that was by far inferior to that of the men. Yet, here is where we need new legislation or an expansion of Title IX to solve the problem, because the weight room disparity did not violate Title IX. The reason it didn’t was because the NCAA was running the men’s and women’s tournaments, not an individual school. The 1999 court case NCAA v. Smith ruled that although the NCAA receives “dues payments from recipients of federal funds” those payments do not “suffice” to force the NCAA to abide by Title IX.

The uproar over the weight room did cause the NCAA to launch an investigation into its own inequity and the organization is now making strides to treat the women’s tournament with equal respect. In 2022 the NCAAW Tournament used “March Madness” branding for the first time.

As Swish Appeal's Cat Ariail wrote in March of 2021, an investigation was unnecessary because the culprit behind the weight room fiasco and so many other inequities between men’s and women’s college sports was and is a lack of “investment” in women’s sports. As Ariail further explains, the popularity of men’s sports is simply ingrained in our culture in way that women’s sports are not. It is because of this same reason that, in addition to the NCAA, even the individual schools, who are legally bound by Title IX, do not treat women’s sports equally. The schools may also favor men’s sports because they create revenue, but the sexism in our culture is at the root of that as well, as Swish Appeal touched on in its WNBA and NCAAW articles about pay inequality. Men’s sports make more money because they are more popular and perhaps the only true reason they are more popular is because that is the societal norm.

Dallas Wings v Las Vegas Aces
A’ja Wilson has said that increasing the popularity of women’s sports is what is going to significantly change the amount female athletes make, not getting equal revenue shares to that of men.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

So, just as with sexism in all areas of our society, there is a lot of work left to be done. The increased opportunity to play is undeniable. But in order for women to be treated equally to men while going through their playing experiences it’s going to take continued dedication to upholding what Title IX meant to accomplish 50 years ago.