Title IX Needs a 21st Century Makeover

Society has become accustomed to hearing about cheating in the world of sports. We have endured Major League Baseball’s steroid era, the Reggie Bush scandal, and the Ohio State debacle. When it comes to issues with Title IX in collegiate athletics, cheating is just as rampant. But if you find the loophole in the system, is it really cheating? A recent New York Times article begs this question in regards to Title IX at universities across the U.S., and points out that it is time for the 40-year-old policy to undergo major changes.

Although proponents of Title IX point to the growth of women’s athletics as a positive result of the regulation, there is a transcending problem that lies within the policy. The primary issue is that Title IX has failed to evolve into an effective policy since its enactment in 1972 due to lack of progressive criteria for schools to follow, particularly in the area of athletics. 

Title IX was established as a means to ensure gender equality at educational institutions, including any programs or activities that receive federal financial aid. For example, if a male has a strong desire to become a nurse, Title IX protects his right against discrimination in the female-dominant major. But over the 40-year history of the policy, Title IX has developed a stigma in collegiate athletics, where those against the policy blame it for the demise of some men’s teams.

Title IX outlines three ways for schools to reach compliance in the area of athletics. The first calls for proportionality between the male and female undergraduate enrollment to male and female athletes. The second allows schools to demonstrate a history of expanding opportunities for the under-represented gender, while the third calls for the school to meet the interest of the under-represented gender. But each method presents separate issues that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is in charge of the policy, has failed to clarify. The lack of clarification has allowed schools to take advantage of loopholes in the system, creating an unbalanced system between those trying to follow the rules and those trying to find ways around them. With little clarification, the OCR is hard-pressed to enforce penalties for Title IX violators. 

Two issues immediately jump out concerning the proportionality of male-female athletics participation to the full-time undergraduate enrollment.

Firstly, there is a lack of definition of “proportionality.” Constantly changing enrollments make it virtually impossible for a school to have exact proportionality. Generally, proportionality within 5% is accepted as the guideline. Secondly, many schools have a larger undergraduate population of female students than male; therefore, debunking the reason for having an equal amount of female athletes.

Part two of Title IX’s compliance test states that schools can show “a history and continuing practice of expansion of athletics opportunities for the under-represented gender.” Many schools have actually failed to reach compliance due to the fluctuation of undergraduate enrollment, interest of students and the economy.

Seeing that the under-represented gender tends to be female, many schools are forced to add a sport that really is of interest to no one in the university or community. For instance, the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently added bowling, which after 17 years as a Division I sport only wields 35 teams.  

The last prong of the test – a survey of the student population to gauge the satisfaction with the sports currently offered – was shot down by the NCAA, thereby deterring most schools from attempting to utilize it. But what happens when the under-represented female population demands their own football team? Schools not only would be forced to accommodate such an interest, but they would open up a whole new realm of necessary compliance in equipment, facilities, scholarships, and everything else associated with fielding a football team. This is essentially a dead part of Title IX because the OCR has issued and rescinded multiple clarifications on this issue without coming to a conclusion of how schools can actually use this for compliance.

While some would say get rid of Title IX altogether, it remains necessary as female sports would likely fall by the wayside without it. The reality remains that not as many females are as interested in athletics as males. Title IX does not take that into account. Perhaps the best solution is to change the proportionality guidelines. For instance, if a school has a larger female undergraduate population, allow for 20% more male athletes. The school’s athletic makeup would be 60% male, 40% female. Then every three years, the school could examine if the needs of the female undergraduate population are met in the area of athletics.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Leslie Wilhite

Leslie's career revolves around her deep passion for athletics. She currently serves as an assistant director of athletic communications at Middle Tennessee State University, working with the men's basketball, baseball and men's tennis teams. She's also had the privilege of working at the Houston Astros, four NCAA Men's College World Series and three different bowl games among other sporting events. An advocate of women's athletics, Leslie's graduate studies focused on the advancement of women's athletics and Title IX issues. She holds a master's in sport management from the University of Illinois and bachelor's in broadcast journalism from the University of Kentucky.

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