The Intended and Unintended Consequences of Title IX

by Whitney Pitcher

I wrote the following post at The New Agenda in celebration of Title IX’s 40th birthday:

Today marks a very important milestone in women’ s history–the fortieth birthday of the legislation known as Title IX. Title IX was introduced as an amendment to the re-authorization of a the Higher Education Act and actually did not even  specifically mention women’s participation in sports, which is what  it has became known for over the decades. The amendment is only one sentence:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

It aimed to offer equal opportunity to women in all aspects of higher education–access to college, sports, other extra curricular activity, specific classes, tutoring, and facilities among other things.  Senator  Birch Bayh of Indiana proposed the amendment, which passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Nixon on June 23, 2012. Although the legislation was passed as applied to institutions of higher education, the 1979 “three prong test” for compliance has often been applied to any educational institution which receives federal funding, which would include high schools.

Many prominent women have offered their appreciation for the piece of legislation. In an event announcing a new initiative to empower female athletes throughout the world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted,” [t]he title IX decision was revolutionary, and I think all of us who care about opportunities for girls and women view it as one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for women in our country’s history”. In her memoir Going Rogue, Governor Sarah Palin noted, ” I’m a product of Title IX and am proud that it was Alaska’s own Ted Stevens who helped usher through the federal legislation in 1972 to ensure girls would have the right to the same education and athletic opportunity as boys. I was a direct beneficiary of the equal rights efforts that had begun only the decade before. Later, my own daughters would benefit, participating in sports like hockey, wrestling, and football, which had been closed to girls for decades”.  Tennis legend, Billie Jean King’s  Women’s Sports Foundation notes that female sports participation is 900% since the law’s passage in 1972. Soccer star, Abby Wambach tweeted in honor of the celebration, ” We have to keep believing in the impossible. If they hadn’t 40 years ago, none of this would have happened”.

We all may not have become a professional athlete and we may not have gone on to play at the collegiate level, but we all have our stories–stories of how such legislation blessed our lives–be it directly or indirectly. When I was in high school, I played point guard for my school’s girls’ basketball team, and I was a member of the Math Club. One day during the basketball season, my math teacher brought in her yearbook to tell me about her high school basketball days. She was in high school when Title IX was implemented, and although it didn’t directly apply to high schools, it coincided with the first time her school offered girls’ basketball. She jumped at the opportunity to play. We also smiled over the fact that, as athletes and math nerds, we both shared the number “13”. It wasn’t unlucky for us. Title IX not only provided women with educational and athletic opportunities; it also gave women opportunities for mentorship and provided role models that girls and women previously didn’t have.

A very happy 40th birthday to Title IX! Let’s play ball!

Please check out these links in celebration of  Title IX:

A clip from the Title IX documentary: Sporting Chance  

The Top 40 Female Athletes of the Last 4o Years

Billie Jean King talks to CBS Sports about the Anniversary of Title IX  

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the State Department’s partnership with ESPN on global sports mentoring program, coinciding with the celebration of 40 years of Title IX

Additional commentary on Title IX: I’m very thankful for the opportunities that Title IX has provide women in education and in sports, but I am of the belief that it needs some serious reforms as well. I certainly believe that female athletes should have equal access to gym facilities and the same scholarship funding opportunities that male athletes do. I certainly believe that colleges should increase women’s sports programs to the extent that they are able to provide greater equality. The effects of the intended consequences have been great for women in education and sports, and these effects have carried with them later in life with the types of skills and lessons that sports can provide all people–how to work as a team, competition, strong work ethic etc.

As with anytime the federal government gets involved in something, however well intended, there has been some unintended negative consequences as well. In the name of gender equality, sometimes things have become less equal for men, which is not right. The effects of expanding women’s collegiate sports has come at the cost of some of the smaller men’s programs. My alma mater, the University of Illinois, cut its men’s swim program in the late 1990s so that they could add women’s soccer and softball programs. This was not fair the collegiate male swimmers. The Women’s Sports Foundation argues that this means of rectifying the inequalities is a result of poor distribution of athletic funding or that funding should increase to a greater extent. This gets into an issue of how much do you increase use of taxpayer dollars or how much do you pester alumni, right now in an economic downturn, to increase donations to an athletic foundation.

Title IX requires that athletes per gender at the school is proportional to total students per gender. This seems like a noble goal, but it also does not take into account that football, the sport that generates the most revenue, is a sport that has more athletes per team than any other sport–22 starters alone, if you assume that players only play one way (offense or defense) and that some starters also play special teams. The Women’s Sport Foundation uses an uncited statistic that indicates that 80% of college and high school football programs lose revenue. However, if you lump in high schools, which are far more numerous than colleges, that has the potential to skew results making it unclear the revenue generation of colleges alone, which is what the legislation was written for–higer education. This brings about another issues as well. There has been dispute over whether or not this legislation applies to public high school since they receive federal funding, which is addressed in subsequent pieces of legislation like the three prongs of test I mentioned in my The New Agenda post. However, the original amendment was part of a bill that applied to higher education. Should reforms be implemented to address this dispute? Should football be exempt since in many situations the revenue that sport generates helps to pay for women’s sports? Perhaps both. I’m not sure of the ultimate solution. Though I don’t agree with every aspect, the Independent Women’s Foundation offers an interesting solution to reform Title IX that’s worth reading.

The unintended consequence of Title IX is that it caused inequalities in men’s collegiate sports in what has become somewhat of a quota based piece of legislation. Additionally, how much should the federal government be involved? A lot of good has come from Title IX, as has some bad. Reforms should be implemented to address the unintended consequences and minimize the bad.



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7 responses to “The Intended and Unintended Consequences of Title IX

  1. jumpingpolarbear

    Can’t but LOL at that picture :).

  2. Gary P Jackson

    I had to laugh today as ESPN talked about Title IX during the NASCAR Nationwide race. [Trying to pump Danica Patrick up] While NASCAR has had a few women drivers, few have had anything even close to success.

    Drag racing has had winning women racers from the start, and didn’t need government encouragement. While NASCAR struggles, NHRA has had numerous female winners and World Champions.

    It’s a good thing that women’s sports are treated as equals though. If not, far too many schools would blow their entire budget on football.

    Great article Whitney!

  3. I’ll probably be the only negative voice on this thread, but depending on Big Brother to “equalize” women’s sports opportunities has had, as Whitney herself pointed out (and it was also, surprisingly, pointed out on NPR’s “All Things Considered” yesterday!), some less than ideal “unintened consequences.” But, as with all “public” institutions, one has to take the good with the bad when Big Brother (& Big Sister, in this case) dictates “fairness” and “change.”

    I guess that I’m not really one to weight in on this, ’cause I had the benefit of independent (private) high school & college – and both institutions were single-sex enrollment (i.e., girls/women ONLY!). So, as you can well imagine, we never did have to “compete” with the boys/guys for sports funding! (However, all independent/private schools do have to worry about funding in general.)

    My HS had a VERY modest – but active – sports program; but, to this day, my college has had an outstanding and very comprehensive sports program – i.e., a wide variety of both individual and team sports are actively pursued. We definitely believe in the “scholar athlete!!”

  4. I’m completely with you on this. I don’t like the federal government being an equalizer, and it’s hard to look at the alternative history as to what would happen if Title IX hadn’t have passed. I went to a small Christian high school when I played basketball, so even with the dispute over whether or not high schools fell under Title IX, it didn’t matter for my school,since we didn’t receive federal funding. At the same time, Title IX changed the culture in schools in such a way that probably paved the way for schools not under Title IX to begin to have girl’s sports.

    I guess I’m of the belief that Title IX needs reforms, not repealed, even though it is the federal government is getting involved in the first place.

  5. Aaron Allen

    Hi Gary: I had a thot or two after reading this thread…A talented and popu-
    lar all-female [rock/country/folk/jazz/etc.] group called ‘Title IX’ plays a circuit
    that includes middle schools, high schools, 2-yr colleges, 4-yr colleges/uni-
    versities. They play/sing very well and plug the opportunities/benefits that
    Title IX has has caused or encouraged, including not only team sports but
    also individual-participation [golf/tennis/swimming/diving/etc.]…A program
    of general fitness and rehab. for disabled/challenged shud be added also.
    Those schools with limited funds and few athletic venues cud benefit from
    such workout/gynb/crosscountry running/crosscountry skiing/water sports,
    as well as other modest-cost offerings? Meanwhile, ‘Title IX’ [which actually
    has several ‘traveling teams’] presents the ‘most-suitable’ concert [rock/folk/
    country/jazz] at venues ‘played’ and any CD/download/etc. sales above the
    actual ‘touring’ costs? A few gigs at elementary schools wud be appropriate
    too? Little kids respond well to concepts of ‘fairness’ and ‘opportunity’…Title
    IX cud get them to jump up/handclap/sing-along on some numbers? Join
    the kids as they participate in sports/workouts–and wheelchair sports also..
    Aaron Allen…

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