How Title IX Protects Interscholastic Student-Athletes

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Female student athletes jumping

In an era dominated by female athletic stars like Serena Williams and Alex Morgan, few people recall that 50 years ago there were no scholarships for women to play college athletics, and females were banned from running the New York City Marathon.

The nation has seen a great deal of growth toward gender equality in sports since those days. Many believe the catalyst for that change was the implementation of Title IX.

Enacted as a federal law in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act states: “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 education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Public and private educational institutions that receive federal funds must follow Title IX. In addition, private colleges and universities must abide by Title IX regulations because their students are eligible for federal financial aid, according to the NCAA.

Interscholastic athletics fall under this requirement because they are defined as educational programs and activities. Three parts of Title IX apply to athletics, according to the NCAA:

  1. Participation: Under the amendment, women and men must be provided equal opportunities to participate in sports. Schools do not have to offer identical sports but must provide equal opportunity to play.
  2. Scholarships: Male and female student-athletes must receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation.
  3. Other benefits: Male and female student-athletes must receive equal treatment in these areas:
    • Supplies and equipment
    • Scheduling of practice times and games
    • Travel and daily allowance/per diem
    • Access to tutors
    • Coaching
    • Locker rooms, practice, and competitive facilities
    • Training facilities and medical services
    • Housing and dining facilities and services
    • Promotions and publicity
    • Support services
    • Recruitment of student-athletes

Institutions are responsible for complying with Title IX. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education enforces Title IX and in 1990 issued the “Title IX Athletics Investigator’s Manual” to assist athletic departments with compliance.

Most campuses designate a Title IX coordinator to oversee policies and implementation associated with the legislation. Coordinators also participate in program compliance, which consists of a broad program comparison rather than a sport-by-sport match-up to ensure that Title IX does not result in the creation of mirror image programs. Females and males are encouraged to participate in different sports that reflect their interests and abilities. Complaints about failure to meet Title IX requirements can be filed with the OCR confidentially.

How Title IX Has Benefitted Interscholastic Sports

Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. Now, two out of every five girls play sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Increased funding opportunities for women’s sports has resulted in a 545 percent increase in the percentage of women playing college sports and a 990 percent increase in women playing high school sports.

A 2017 survey conducted by the NCAA found a consistent increase for both girls and boys since the creation of Title IX. From 2011-16, boys’ participation opportunities increased by more than 50,000 while the number of girls’ opportunities increased by over 150,000.

That same survey reported that the girls high school participation rate is more than 10 times higher than it was when Title IX was passed, an increase of more than 1,000 percent. However, current girls participation levels have yet to reach the boys levels from 1971-72.

Title IX has had an undeniably positive impact on the opportunities available to female athletes. However, it still faces some shortcomings in accomplishing gender equality in sports.

How Title IX Could Still Be Improved

Almost 4,500 public high schools in the U.S. have significant gender inequality in sports and could be in violation of Title IX, writes Alia Wong of The Atlantic. Citing an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center of 2011-12 Department of Education data, Wong reports that these schools account for more than 28 percent of the country’s public high schools. The inequality gap is larger in some states than others, but most have large gaps in at least one in five high schools. Six states in particular show large gaps in more than half of their public schools.

A gap is considered large when the ratio of female student-athletes to male student-athletes shows more disparity than the ratio of overall female students to male students at the school. The state with the biggest inequality is Georgia, where two-thirds of high schools have large gaps. States with the smallest gaps include Vermont, Hawaii, Maine, and Maryland.

Disciplining schools for failure to comply with Title IX is difficult for the federal government, Wong notes. The gap could be because the school is not providing opportunity for females, but could also be attributed to a school not having enough females interested in participating.

Perhaps more troubling is additional research indicating that the schools with the largest gaps are those with high concentrations of minority and low-income students compared to schools serving majority-white populations.

A study by National Women’s Law Center produced in partnership with the Poverty & Race Research Action Council found that 40 percent of heavily minority schools have large gaps compared to just 16 percent of heavily white schools. “Gender- and race-based disparities in high school athletics could be exacerbating the ever-growing inequality in educational or career attainment that already plagues women and people of color,” writes Wong. “Participation in high school athletics often correlates with academic success and increases the likelihood that a student will attend and earn a degree from college.”

Since its creation 46 years ago, Title IX has contributed significantly to gender equality in school athletics. But leaders at the interscholastic level should be aware of the large gaps still remaining and continue to find ways to improve.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration

Ohio University’s Master’s in Athletic Administration online prepares interscholastic athletic directors and coaches to operate athletic departments and teams. Established in 1966 as the first academic program in the field of sports administration, the degree’s online format provides convenient scheduling of classwork to fit any busy lifestyle.

OHIO’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares graduates for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.

Recommended Reading:
A Breakdown Of Title IX In Interscholastic Sports

Understanding the Importance of Title IX

Athletic Administration: No Longer a Boy’s Club


Title IX Frequently Asked Questions: NCAA

Title IX and the Rise of Female Athletes in America: Women’s Sports Foundation

Amazing things happen when you give female athletes the same funding as men: World Economic Forum

45 Years of Title IX: The Status of Women in Intercollegiate Athletics: NCAA

Where Girls Are Missing Out on High-School Sports: The Atlantic