Sports

Blasberg ’18: Rethinking Title IX

By
Sports Columnist
Monday, November 17, 2014

 

In 1972, things in America were going crazy. The war in Vietnam was raging and causing all sorts of controversy among youth in America. The Cold War was as tense as ever. Watergate shocked the nation. But a piece of legislation of relative insignificance at the time has had ripples that deeply affect college athletics today.

On June 23, 1972, just over 40 years ago, then-President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. The act’s original intention was much simpler than its practical implications today: to end gender discrimination in schools that receive government money. Pushed forward by then-U.S. Rep. Edith Green, D-Ore., Title IX of this legislation has become influential for athletes across the nation.

The government has now told schools that the surest way to adhere to Title IX is through proportionality, meaning that if half the school’s students are women, half of its athletes should be women as well. As a result, women’s collegiate sports teams have sprung up across the country at an astonishing rate in the past 40 years.

When Title IX was signed into law in 1972, just under 30,000 women participated in collegiate athletics. That number had jumped to nearly 200,000 by the 2012-13 school year. Almost seven times as many women play college sports today as when the law first took effect. Title IX sparked the interest and participation in women’s sports that helped lead to World Cup victories for the U.S. women’s soccer team in 1991 and 1999, countless Olympic medals and a successful professional women’s basketball league — the WNBA.

But at what cost have these achievements come? When Title IX was introduced, colleges could achieve proportionality in one of two ways: by either adding women’s teams or cutting back on the number of men’s teams. Because adding new teams requires funding, most colleges opted to cut men’s teams.

The men’s sports that have taken the biggest hits since the implementation of Title IX are wrestling, gymnastics, tennis, track and field and swimming. In 1980, there were 116 collegiate men’s gymnastics teams. Now, there are only seventeen. A major reason why colleges are forced to completely cut sports teams is their unwavering support of the team that brings in the most revenue, but also has, by far, the most male participants: the football team.

At Brown, the football roster counts roughly 100 players, which is the size of 10 tennis teams, nine squash teams or three-and-a-half wrestling teams. In order to comply with Title IX, a college is forced to cut teams and substantially slim down others to keep an entire football team.

Perhaps a better way to maintain equality in collegiate athletics is to ensure that each college has the same number of men’s and women’s teams, as opposed to the same number of men and women competing in athletics. This way, a college’s decision to keep an entire football team does not necessarily entail the marginalization of other sports teams.

Among student activities, why has Title IX only been implemented in athletics? The original legislation simply states that schools cannot discriminate according to gender. By the same logic that enforces equal participation in athletics, other school programs should also have equal participation from both sexes. Not only is ensuring equal representation of men and women in everything from orchestras to dramatic productions an unlikely goal, but also the quality of such programs would fall as a result of the school needing to fill quotas of either more men or women to comply with Title IX.

At its core, Title IX is a good thing. It has benefited hundreds of thousands of women across America, and it has changed attitudes toward sports in general. But implementation of the legislation is inconsistent, and its specificities can be improved so that the rise of collegiate women’s sports does not inherently mean the elimination of men’s teams.

 

 

Charlie Blasberg ’18 can be reached at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.

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