In 1972, Title IX was passed into federal law, prohibiting sex discrimination in all aspects of education, including athletics. 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, but has much been done to bring equality to men’s and women’s athletics?

Since Title IX’s implementation in 1972, there has been a large increase in the number of women participating in athletics at both the high school and collegiate levels. A 2008 study found that since 1977, there are now 9,101 women’s intercollegiate sports teams—the highest number ever—with basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country and softball being the most frequently offered women’s sports. There has also been an increase in the representation of female coaches, athletic directors and women employed in intercollegiate athletics. At the same time, however, many men’s sport programs have been dismantled despite strong participation in the sport, such as wrestling. While wrestling shows a high popularity amongst high schoolers, many intercollegiate wrestling programs have been dropped as a possible victim of Title IX’s three-prong test for compliance, in which schools must hold a proportionate amount of sport programs and facilities that accommodate the interests and abilities of both male and female participants. In response to this requirement, many schools have evened out the sport program numbers by dropping men’s teams, rather than adding more options for women. The most frequently dropped men’s programs are cross country, indoor track, golf, tennis, rowing, outdoor track, swimming and wrestling.

Further legislation of Title IX occurred in 2010 in an attempt to alleviate the problem of dismantling men’s programs. The US Commission on Civil Rights analyzed the three-prong test and procedures for implementing it to see if there was an unnecessary reduction of men’s programs taking place. The commission decided to allow the use of surveys to measure sports interest of both sexes, and not just the interest of the underrepresented sex (usually females) in hopes of retaining men’s programs.

Men’s sports continue to dominate the college and professional ranks, however, regarding coaching positions and salaries, facilities, scholarships, media coverage, sideline reporters and anchors, and writers. During the 2010 NCAA basketball tournaments, men’s tournament viewers outnumbered women’s tournament viewers by a ratio of 3.7 to 1. That’s roughly four men’s tournament viewers for every viewer of the women’s tournament. Media coverage of the women’s tournament was even more dismal, with ESPN SportsCenter airing only 1 minute and 12 seconds of women’s basketball highlights, compared to 1 hour and 37 minutes of men’s basketball highlights over the course of two weeks. Attendance is considerably low at women’s basketball games, and media outlets take this into consideration when determining which stories may interest their readers, but despite low in-person attendance, the 12 tournament games ESPN broadcasted in 2010 attracted a respectable 1.6 million viewers. The media silence surrounding women’s sports needs to change. Title IX has shown the world that women can flex their muscles in their own playing fields, but has it created equality in sports? While Title IX strives to bridge the gap between gender in sport and education, it seems that there is still work to be done.

For more information on Title IX legislation, FiT’s Summer 2012 publication Law in Sport, 4th Edition by Annie Clement and John Grady will feature an updated chapter on the 14th Amendment and Title IX. Also, current FiT author Richard Lapchick’s 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes who Opened Doors for Future Generations highlights the accomplishments of female athletes who created more opportunities for future athletes in women’s sports programs.

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