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On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. Title IX of those amendments, which spanned sections 1681-1688, covered key protections for students in education programs: discrimination based on sex or blindness.
Fifty years later, that protection has become popularly known as Title IX: “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.”
It’s a law that you’ve certainly heard referenced — most often when talking about women’s college sports — but how did it come to be? What does it actually cover? And what does its future look like? Here’s what you need to know about Title IX.
How Title IX came to be
Title IX was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was enacted to end discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in regard to employment and public accommodation. But when it came to the college classroom, significant gaps remained.
Eight years after that landmark 1964 Act, the Title IX portion of the 1972 amendments sought to expand those protections by focusing on educational funding.
“Today, I am signing into law the Education Amendments of 1972,” President Nixon said. “This legislation includes comprehensive higher education provisions, authority for a new effort to revitalize our educational research effort and authority to provide financial assistance to school districts to meet special problems incident to desegregation.”
How Title IX changed women’s college sports
Before Nixon signed the 1972 amendments, the college sports landscape was dominated by men. The NCAA was founded in 1906 to govern college football before gradually growing as a discussion group and rules committee for a plethora of sports.
By 1972, 200,000 athletes were competing in college sports. Just 30,000 of them were women.
Athletic scholarships were virtually nonexistent for women and no national championships were held for women’s teams. According to the History Channel, just 2 percent of college athletic budgets went toward women athletes.
Off the field, women were discriminated against in the classroom as well. Many universities barred women from attending while many others offered male-only classes, which ranged from criminal justice to wood shop.
The effect of Title IX
NCAA data from 2016 shows the gender disparity in college athletes has shrunk dramatically in the 50 years since Title IX’s inception. Of the 486,859 athletes who participated in college sports, 211,886 were women. Additionally, women received 45 percent of the total athletic scholarship dollars at DI schools in 2016.
The law has also done far more than increase the size of the scholarship slice. The historic 1980 Alexander v. Yale case was the first to use Title IX in charges of sexual harassment against an educational institution. Title IX has also been credited with helping increase the number of women who pursue higher education.
“Among other items are documents relating to the court case Alexander v. Yale, decided in 1980, that for the first time used Title IX in charges of sexual harassment against an educational institution — in this case, Yale.” pic.twitter.com/NtsTG6vyrb
— Public Justice (@Public_Justice) April 28, 2022
And from 2010 to 2016, the Obama administration expanded the protection of Title IX to protect transgender students from gender discrimination.
However, Title IX advocates argue there is still significant progress to be made. While the participation gap has narrowed, data shows the opportunity gap remains. Despite Title IX’s intention for women to receive opportunities proportionate to the school’s enrollment, a report from the Women’s Sports Foundation found that 86 percent of colleges are offering a disproportionate number of athletic opportunities to men compared to their enrollment. They argue that this resulted in 60,000 missed opportunities for women athletes.
“We should absolutely celebrate the fact that girls’ participation in high school sports is nearly 12 times higher than it was when Title IX was passed, but we cannot rest on it,” WSF founder Billie Jean King said. “The mere existence of Title IX does not ensure equal opportunities unless it is enforced for everyone, particularly among girls and women of color, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community – where the gap is consistently the widest.”
Does Title IX have a future in college sports?
While the answer may be clear that Title IX was effective for most of its initial intentions, many have debated in recent years if our structure of collegiate athletics has outgrown the now-50-year-old law. Some have proposed that the future of college sports may need a revamped Title IX to scale with the ever-changing landscape of the industry.
One such change has been the recent opportunity for college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). Some have argued that NIL legislation and Title IX protections are on a collision course that the 1972 law never could have imagined.
“The stakes are high; the potential for making money is huge. Here is the issue: As soon as a university, its employees, or its booster clubs play any role in helping athletes earn money or make deals, the school is necessarily providing a benefit to them,” attorneys Arthur Bryant and Cary Joshi wrote for Sportico. “And Title IX requires that male and female athletes be treated equally. If the university arranges or offers deals for men and not women, or vice versa, it has trouble under the law.”
However, while changes like NIL will continue to shift the college sports world every few years, the now-50-year-old law has proven to provide much-needed protections for who will be impacted by those changes. Regardless of what the next 50 years bring, no one can deny that Title IX has left an undeniable imprint on the college sports landscape, for the betterment of millions of women athletes.
(Top photo: Andrew Wevers / USA TODAY Sports)