Title IX: Sharing the Wealth – May 2007

Overheard at a New York area sports bar:

Patron: So, did you hear about the new tattoo a radio personality “of a certain age” is getting? It reads: “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”

Of course it’s a joke – and a pretty bad one at that.

But if you did get it, you’ve both been paying attention to national women’s basketball news and recognized the source of the quote: the text of Title IX. Scanning the 35-years that separate the passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 and Don Imus’ insulting remarks about the Rutgers basketball team, you can hear echoes of women’s basketball’s history. For instance, in a recent profile for the Women’s Sports Foundation, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer admitted she never envisioned being a coach. “I wanted to play,” said Stringer. “I would have played the rest of my life.” But, continued the piece, in the mid-’60s, organized basketball for girls in her hometown of Edenborn, Pa., did not exist. Instead, girls were expected to be cheerleaders. “You were a second-class citizen,” recalled Stringer. “Not that you weren’t able to [play basketball]. You weren’t allowed to. I remember this one grandmother telling her daughter that girls would have knots in their legs if they played. That’s a shame, because it made you ashamed to play.”

Imagine that. Ashamed because you wanted play.

Title IX forced open doors and removed barriers – both legal and social. Girls and women’s participation in both athletics and academics skyrocketed. As Dr. Mary Curtis and Dr. Christine H.B. Grant explain on their “About Title IX” website, “before Title IX, many schools refused to admit women or enforced strict limits.” Now, noted a July, 2006 New York Times article, “women make up 58% of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges and are, over all, the majority in graduate schools and professional schools, too.”

In athletics, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) reports that before Title IX, “only 1 in 27 girls participated in sports; today that number is 1 in 3. Participation for female athletes has risen 904% in high schools and 456% in college.” 2006 saw the “highest ever number of women’s teams (8.45 per school) and highest ever number of women’s team in the nation (8,702),” wrote Linda Jean Carpenter, PhD, JD, and R. Vivian Acosta, PhD, in their updated longitudinal national study of women in intercollegiate sport.

How does that translate to women’s basketball? In 1972, 132,299 young girls played high school basketball. Currently that number stands at over 450,500. Fewer than 32,000 women participated in college sports before Title IX. Today, the number is close to 163,000, over 14,500 of who are basketball players.

Even better news? All those players need coaches.

“The bad news is women are still falling short,” explained Val Ackerman, president of USA Basketball, A two-time All-American at Virginia, in 1978 she earned herself an athletic scholarship by showing coaches a scrapbook full of her newspaper clippings. Things have radically changed since there were but a handful of women’s sports on campus and her coach, Debbie Ryan, had to split the one available scholarship between Ackerman and a teammate. (“My joke was always that I got tuition and fees and she got room and board – so I got to got to class and she got to eat.”) But today, said Ackerman, despite all the gains, “if people look at the absolute numbers — of roster spots, of dollars spent — there’s still room for improvement.” In 2005, for instance, the WSF reported only 20% of all colleges and universities were in compliance with Title IX.

Title IX’s implementation at the collegiate level has garnered most of the media attention, while at the high school level it often flies under the radar. Several years ago, while serving as Director of Recreation and Assistant Dean of Community Relations at Rutgers, Pamela Noakes became involved in a Title IX issue in a near by high school. “I was astonished at the lack of information about Title IX that’s available in the public school system, and the way that people really disregarded any kind of commitment to Title IX,” recalled Noakes. In her new role as Executive Director of the National Association of Girls and Women in Sports Noakes is still stunned at how uninformed people are, “particularly athletic directors who are making decisions about finances, equipment, facilities and how to hire people. There really doesn’t seem to be much regard for Title IX. I don’t know exactly why that is, but kind of like if nobody’s making a stink about it, then just let it go.”

Despite its success in increasing opportunities for girls and women, Title IX has constantly been subjected to criticism and lawsuits, something that confounds Anita DeFrantz, president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation. Her Indianapolis high school offered no team sports for girls, so in 1973 it took a chance encounter with a Connecticut College rowing coach to put her on the path to the 1976 Olympics and a bronze medal. “So now we come to 30 years later and there’s still court cases doing their best to prevent girls and women their fair opportunity. And it just makes me sad, because guys, it says the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. What more need one say? Equal. Educational. Opportunities. It’s Title IX of that Act. It’s about sharing.”

And there’s the rub: sharing money. Because we know what happens when those in charge of budgets decide to lose “minor” sports instead of trimming “major” sports. Say it with me, everyone: “Title IX made me do it!”

“I’m so sick of hearing that,” said Cynthia Pemberton, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and professor of Educational Leadership at Idaho State. “‘So-and-so had to cut their programs because of Title IX.’ No! They had to cut their programs because that is a choice that they have made. Because the 20 worst football players are worth more to them than the 20 best wrestlers. They’ve made value judgments among men’s sports.”

“The bottom line is that resources are limited. Period.” continued Pemberton. “And it used to be that the boys got all the resources because they were the only ones playing in the sand box. Now girls get to play, too. And we didn’t double the size of our resources. Hence, we have to re-divide the pie.”

Of course, with its media profile and popularity amongst athletes, high school and collegiate women’s basketball programs are about as safe a sport as any. The question is, if we truly embrace the goals of Title IX — creating equal opportunity and quality programs for as many students as possible — what is women’s basketball’s responsibility to other “non-major” sports, both male and female. Ackerman is clear: “What’s important is that the women’s college coaches don’t sit back and say, ‘My job is done.’ I think they do need to be supportive of other programs.”

That being said, Pemberton understands people’s reluctance to “make a stink” when facing those who hold the purse strings. To her, the strategy of those invested in the status quo is simple: “‘We’ll give a group of women and sports and sports coaches enough warm fuzzies and accoutrements and benefits and accommodations,'” she imagines they say, “‘that they’ll sit back like fat, little cats and smile – even though the cushion that they’re sitting on is still smaller than the boy’s cushion. But we’ll give them enough that they’ll be happy.'” The result? Said Pemberton, “the group that potentially has some power to have a voice won’t want to raise that voice — because they don’t want to lose it.”

“We really need to get the women’s sports coaches – particularly in the headlines, torch bearing-type sports positions, to understand, recognize and realize that it is their responsibility to be engaged,” she said. “You really don’t have the option not to be part of the overall process. Folks who choose not be involved, well, then they doom it to failure.”

“In the past,” noted Nancy Hogshead-Makar, associate professor at Florida Coastal School of Law and recipient of Duke University’s one and only swimming scholarship (1978), “when women complained about pay or how their female athletes were being treated, they were really close to being fired. Whereas now they have this call for agitation against retaliation, so actually they have more job protection if they complain than if they don’t.” Another change in today’s landscape encourages Hogshead-Makar. “I’m a firm believer in top down ethics — that people take their cues from the top,” she explained. “Back in the 1980’s, the NCAA was openly hostile to Title IX, doing everything they could against it. Now you have the NCAA bending over backwards to support Title IX.”

One reason for this shift is the leadership of Dr. Myles Brand, under whose tenure the NCAA’s Practical Guide for Gender Equity has been developed and a Gender Equity Plan has been added to 10-year certification process for Division I institutions. Another reason is Congress seriously questioning the tax-exempt status of college sports – especially Division I-A football and men’s basketball. “When the NCAA responds, they respond with ‘gender equity,'” said Hogshead-Makar. “If these football and basketball guys want to keep these $35 million contracts, you need gender equity.”

Why? Well, she points out, women athletes graduate, which makes college sports look good. Second, the NCAA can say – with some truth – “if it’s a business then women will get hurt,” Hogshead-Makar explained, “because they won’t fall under the umbrella of an educational mission. Right now, the NCAA needs gender equity more than gender equity needs them. They need it if they want to keep the system going.”

Since 1976 Becky Oakes, currently assistant director of National Federation of State High School Associations, has been a teacher, coach and athletic director. As such, she has a profound respect for the challenges high school athletic directors face when dealing with issues of money and Title IX compliance. Unlike their counterparts on the collegiate level, high schools can’t raise their tuition to meet needs. Said Oakes, “you might have a superintendent who is very much in favor of doing something that would be very favorable for girl’s athletics in the school, but says, ‘I only have so much money. And I have all these issues with No Child Left Behind, and this, and this… How do I stretch those dollars?'”

“Coaches need to try to work together because you get more by maximizing your dollars and facilities than you do if you say, ‘We need to duplicate everything,'” suggested Oakes. “You don’t get as much, you create some hard feelings and, as a result, you start drawing lines and sides for people to be on.” As a track coach in the late ’70s she remembers realizing that if her school could run her boys and girls together and travel on the same bus, they could go twice as far – doubling the type of competition they were exposed to. “Both of the men’s and women’s coaches bought in to that,” recalled Oakes. “So, even though we got separate budgets, we just combined them and began to order things together. It was just coaches talking to each other and realizing that they can, personally, for their team, gain by working together. You don’t always gain more by being separate.”

Unfortunately, Title IX’s history seems littered with so-called “minor” programs being pitted – or pitting themselves – against each other. The National Wrestling Coaches Association is perhaps the best-known example. When their programs were cut, they had a choice of whom they could go after: football and men’s basketball ball (who’ve grown from 40% to about 75% of the entire athletic budget) or the women’s programs. Perhaps thinking the women were more vulnerable, Title IX became their target.

“They’ve worked through all three branches of government to weaken Title IX,” said Hogshead-Makar. “They’ve failed repeatedly, on every count. I don’t know what their strategy is, but it ain’t working for them. They might try a different one to save their programs. And if they did reach across the aisle…” She trailed off, sounding almost wistful. “When you look at the wrestling website, one of their mottos is ‘Wrestling – Training for the rest of your life.’ That is exactly what all women athletes would say. And it’s why they want access to this powerful experience: because it’s training for the rest of their lives.”

That access is what a dozen female athletes, including swimmer and water polo player Beth Choike, sought this past year when they sued Slippery Rock University after it said it would cut eight sports. (It shouldn’t go un-remarked that C. Vivian Stringer attended Slippery Rock in the mid-sixties and finally got to play scholastic basketball. “Oh, my God,” she remembered thinking when she arrived, “They have a team for girls. That’s really special.”) The athlete’s suit was successful, and after the victory Choike said she received support from other female athletes whose sports weren’t cut, and that “it feels good that we were not shunned by the school or anything.”

Imagine that. Shunned because you fought for your right to play.


“We can talk about Title IX in universities as much as we want and do research, but are we really reaching the people who are making the decisions about how the money is given out, about who’s getting opportunities, about how things should be brought in to line?” asks Noakes. “I appreciate all the other things people have done where they try and educate people about Title IX, but honestly, it’s really kind of boring information. If you’re an athlete, it’s not stuff you’re interested in, unless you can somehow personalize it for them.” (One might say the same about coaches.)

This is where the newly launched NAGWS educational program “Backyards and Beyond” comes in. Focusing on issues of social justice in sport, the first unit is an interactive exercise in which people do an activity, engage in some conversation and plan strategies for how they might address Title IX issues in a totally non-threatening way. “We don’t talk about ‘prongs’ [of compliance], we don’t make any mention of lawsuits. We approach Title IX as the concept of fairness in sports and that I, as a parent or coach of a boy or girl, should be able to say that I believe that my athletes should have a fair opportunity to participate in sport.”

A leader purchases a (reusable) toolkit and gathers a small group of teammates, PTA members, girl scouts, or neighbors. After a short DVD, the group is split in half. One becomes the served population; the other becomes the underserved population. Each group is given the same task -put together a puzzle. The first group is given all they need to complete the task, while the other group receives directions that are in a foreign language, are missing pieces, have no facilitator and are expected to work in a very restrictive environment.

After 15 minutes, they all gather and discuss the challenges (or lack thereof) within the experience. The facilitator then translates that conversation into sport, explained Noakes, saying, “Similar sorts of limitations can be put on you in sports. So what are some of the ways these types of situations might affect you in a sports context?” The facilitator then talks about how Title IX “protects people’s rights in this area and how important it is that people know what those rights are. So that if you are in a situation in your community where you saw something that might be a Title IX issue, what are some of the ways that you could address that issue? What would you do to resolve it?”

35 and BEYOND
Noakes believes that a grassroots education process is essential to the continued implementation and success of Title IX. “My philosophy behind this program,” she said, “is that if I as a parent of a kid in a high school can ask the question, then at least there’s some check in the system that’s in place. Maybe one question is not enough. Maybe there needs to be ten or 50 or 100 – however many questions it takes to move the administration.”

“We can make changes in what we do, and you as the leader – whoever you are – need to make some choices to do that so everybody gets a good shot at what they’re entitled to. I don’t expect a whole bunch of coaches to be willing to take that risk on their own. But certainly, if there were a group of concerned parents, a group of concerned athletes, a group of coaches who had questions, they would have a much stronger voice than one coach individually.”


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