Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 turned 50 years old this year. The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in any school or education program funded by the federal government. It is most widely known for its effect on sports in the American education system.
Has it lived up to its promise to bring gender equity to school sports? No – at least, not in college sports, says a new report by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). This is despite the fact that women receive about 47.1% of all opportunities for college sports participation, compared to only 26.4% a decade after Title IX was passed.
In 2020, women made up 54% of college students in the NCAA’s Division I. So, they should really be receiving around 54% of all the sports opportunities. Is 47.1% enough?
Title IX doesn’t actually require perfect equity between the genders, according to the courts. They use something called the “three prong test,” and education programs are thought to be in compliance with Title IX if they achieve one of the three prongs:
- Based on full-time undergrad enrollment, there are “substantially proportionate” participation opportunities
- The school can demonstrate a “history and continuing practice of program expansion” when one gender has historically been or is still underrepresented in athletics
- The program can show “the interests and abilities” of the underrepresented gender have been “fully and effectively accommodated”
Whether a particular school’s athletic program meets one of those prongs can be a complex question.
Does 47.1% seem pretty close to half?
What the NCAA report calls out is the sheer inequality of athletics program spending. It may be true that women can access 47.1% of all college sports opportunities, but those opportunities are not paid equally, so to speak.
In 2020 in Division I schools, the men’s athletic programs got over twice the allocated resources of the women’s. This was particularly the case in the Football Bowl Subdivision – schools with a high-earning football program.
Allocated resources weren’t the only gender gap, according to the report. Men’s programs got nearly three times the money for recruiting and three times the compensation for coaches and assistant coaches.
Expenditures for women’s programs are increasing, says the report, but so are expenditures for men’s programs. In fact, the gender gap is growing. In 2009, there was a gender gap of $12.7 million between the programs. In 2019 that gap reached $25.6 million.
Moreover, the report also looked at leadership opportunities in sports. Unsurprisingly, there were fewer opportunities for female coaches. What was truly dismaying was that the number of women coaching women’s teams has dropped from over 90% to merely 41% in 2020 in all three NCAA divisions. Women’s participation in coaching has dropped since Title IX was passed.
The problem carries through to athletic directors, where women’s participation dropped “drastically” in 1980. Women made up about 23.9% of collegiate athletic directors in 2020, according to the study.
The study also called out a lack of diversity among the women in leadership roles.
Is the NCAA report saying that most of these schools are out of compliance with Title IX? No, although some may be. On the occasion of Title IX’s 50th anniversary, we are called to consider whether women are truly seeing a fair share of the athletic opportunities in college. If not, what is holding it up?
Leigh Law Group represents students in Title IX cases throughout California.