Title IX continues to affect the makeup of collegiate sports
By Daniel Bornstein , The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, June 29, 2012
Title IX, the landmark federal legislation mandating gender equity in high school and college athletics, marked its 40th anniversary last Saturday, prompting many around the nation to reflect on the tremendous successes in women’s athletics over the last four decades. The celebration comes at a time when universities are grappling with how to fulfill the law’s requirements against a backdrop of tighter budgets and heightened pressure to maintain their teams’ competitiveness.
Universities must comply with Title IX in one of three ways: The gender ratio of athletes must be proportional to that of the entire school’s enrollment, the school must demonstrate recent expansion of women’s athletic opportunities or the school must prove that it has satisfied women’s interest in sports. Additionally, both men’s and women’s sports must have access to equitable experiences, which include practice facilities, equipment and travel opportunities. Athletic scholarships must be offered in proportion to the gender ratio of the school’s athletes — an issue that has grown increasingly contentious as some men’s teams have seen their scholarship budgets drop, or eliminated altogether, to accommodate women’s teams.
Schools only adhering to the first requirement have to brace themselves for major changes in the next few years, as women are projected to increasingly exceed men in higher education enrollment, according to Beth Goode, the senior associate athletic director at Stanford University.
Building interest in women’s athletics is dependent on offering more athletic opportunities for women, highlighting the inextricable link between the second and third stipulations, according to Jack Kaiser, the former athletic director at St. John’s University in New York.
Rather than select a single requirement to fulfill, Dartmouth takes a holistic approach toward its compliance.
“We say, ‘Do we feel like women have a chance to participate in the activities that they want to?’” Athletic Director Harry Sheehy said. “I want a football player and field hockey player to be able to walk across the Green and say they’re being treated fairly as they’re conversing about their experience.”
Fifty-four percent of Dartmouth’s athletic teams are male, compared with 50 percent of the student body overall, according to the Equity in Athletic Data Analytics. Sheehy’s goal is to narrow that differential to under 3 percent by adding to the rosters of some women’s teams and capping the number of walk-ons on men’s teams. This suggests that Dartmouth could not realistically consider adding a men’s team without adding a women’s team or boosting the number of female athletes.
Such vigilance on the proportionality of athletes can be attributed in large part to a court ruling involving Brown University in 1990. Amid a budget crisis, Brown’s athletic director at the time, David Roach, had to slash his department’s budget by 2.5 percent. Brown decided to eliminate its women’s gymnastics and volleyball teams and cut men’s golf and water polo. Female athletes pointed to Title IX’s third prong to argue that the university failed to satisfy their desire to participate in those sports, according to former Brown Athletic Director Mike Goldberger. The court ruled in favor of the students, and the gender ratio of Brown’s athletes had to be proportional to that of the entire enrollment within a 3.5 percent differential, Goldberger said.
“The Brown case made the Ivies take a laser-focus on proportionality,” Drew Galbraith, Dartmouth’s senior associate athletics director for peak performance, said.
The Ivy League is unique in the realm of Division I competition in that it cannot offer athletic scholarships, shielding the league from many of the complications that Title IX has wrought on the rest of Division I.
Despite nationally competitive teams’ potential to ensure robust budgets for their athletic departments, the formation of women’s teams was not immediately possible following Title IX’s enactment in 1972.
“The only practical way to give women their chance was to give them an equal budget and number of scholarships,” Kaiser said. “In ’72, one of the problems was that a lot of schools couldn’t do that really quickly.”
The dependence on football and basketball programs for revenue generation at some schools, which has become essential for supporting their women’s programs, has put tremendous pressure on coaches to consistently produce winning teams, leading some schools to devote their resources to a few select teams rather than expand the overall number of teams, Sheehy said.
By contrast, the Ivy League has made a commitment to broad-based participation, which explains why its institutions boast a higher number of teams, Sheehy said. Alumni contributions and College funding — each of which comprise half of Dartmouth’s athletic budget — are critical to maintaining such an expansive program at schools whose athletic programs do not rely upon their teams’ revenue production, Sheehy said.
The sizable number of teams at Ivy League schools is part of their effort to integrate athletics into their educational mission.
“We use games as vehicles to teach,” Sheehy said. “It’s an investment in the student-athlete.”
Scholarship-granting schools navigate Title IX in ways that mesh with their efforts to maximize particular teams’ competitiveness, suggesting that teams that are central to a university’s athletic reputation are unlikely to have to deal with lowered scholarship budgets, even if the school is prompted to make changes, according to Cindy Lewis, senior associate athletic director at Hofstra University.
“A school has to decide what it will be competitive in,” Lewis said. “It will look at what teams have demonstrated past success, demonstrate potential for future success and are in a good location within their conference to be successful.”
Yet it would be a mistake to blame Title IX on every single revamp that occurs in university athletic programs, according to Lenny Kaplan, athletic director at the New Jersey Institute of Technologies. Rather, re-allocation of funding within the department may at times be dictated by changes happening within the school’s athletic conference as a whole, Kaplan said.