When the Lady Bison lacrosse team at Howard University took the field last month for its season opener, the team began what has been a compelling chapter in the history of the nation’s only lacrosse team sponsored by an HBCU. The team also contributes to a larger chapter of American history regarding intercollegiate sports.
The team is an example of how the landscape of intercollegiate athletics has changed since Congress passed Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination based on sex in educational programs at institutions that receive federal funds. Intercollegiate athletics is covered by Title IX, which marks its 40th anniversary this year.
“We’ve come so far,” says Karen Morrison, director of gender initiatives at the NCAA, echoing the sentiments of other Title IX advocates. “It’s changed our country and certainly changed the opportunities for women in the country,” says Morrison, who credits expanded intercollegiate athletics opportunities for women with boosting their professional lives beyond college.
Morrison, like many others, says her college athletics experience played a role in her successful pursuits—in her case, law school. A former assistant basketball coach and administrator at the University of Colorado for 16 years, she joined the NCAA five years ago.
Since enforcement of the law began in 1978, there has been a steady drumbeat across the nation for equity in opportunities for women, particularly in the sciences and athletics. Many schools have responded with haste, pursuing ambitious athletic program expansion agendas that also help in recruiting women to their campuses. Others have been less than enthusiastic in complying. Meanwhile, the view of its impact on women from an employment perspective generates a mixed report.
The NCAA, which resisted gender equity efforts for years before shifting toward embracing them, has engaged in a range of efforts to help schools achieve the goals of the law. It has established equity planning requirements, stages an annual equity forum, written a Title IX compliance manual, and established a committee on women’s sports that, starting this summer, will include college presidents (one from each of the NCAA’s three divisions). The NCAA also requires all member schools to designate a Senior Woman Administrator, or SWA, to help schools plan and implement their gender-based athletic programs in a nondiscriminatory way.
“It’s (Title IX) not only opened the door, it’s put a stop on the door so it wouldn’t close,” says HBCU ladies basketball coaching legend Sanya Tyler, the first full-time coach of women’s basketball at Howard.
“It’s impacted athletics tremendously,” says Tyler, who made history on the courts as a winning coach from 1980 to 2000 and, later, in the courts when she won a $2.9 million wage discrimination case against Howard. The court award in the District of Columbia Superior Court has helped improve compensation for women coaches across the nation.
The March Toward Equity
Indeed, the anecdotal observations of Tyler and others are supported by the widely respected findings of R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, researchers affiliated with Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Acosta and Carpenter have studied the involvement of women in intercollegiate sports during the past 35 years. Their work is funded by Smith College’s Project on Women and Social Change and Brooklyn College.
Their recent Acosta/Carpenter report, “A Longitudinal, National Study, Thirty-Five Year Update,” provides a multitude of data, based on a survey of every NCAA member institution with a women’s athletic program. Among its highlights:
• In 2012, there are an average of 8.73 women’s teams per school and about 200,000 female intercollegiate athletes, the highest in history.
• There are 9,274 women’s intercollegiate teams, the highest ever.
• There are 13,792 female professionals employed within intercollegiate athletics, including 3,974 coaches, 215 athletic directors and 7,024 assistant coaches within women’s athletics.
• In 2012, there are 16 times more female athletes than participation slots at the college level.
“Title IX reflects positive things,” says veteran lawyer and Brooklyn College professor emerita Dr. Linda Jean Carpenter, one of the authors of the Acosta/Carpenter report. These milestones could have been reached years earlier, she adds, asserting that Title IX was initially greeted by the NCAA with “roadblock, after roadblock, after roadblock. … Back when Title IX was enacted I would have given them an F minus,” Carpenter says.
For sure, in recent years, the sick economy has frustrated efforts at all schools to sustain what momentum they had, as schools increasingly juggle the need to be in compliance with Title IX with their desire to protect new and traditional favorites at the same time. The results have run the gamut and have not always been easy.
In November, the University of Maryland stunned the collegiate athletic world with the announcement it was shutting eight of its 27 varsity sports programs in order to address an ongoing athletic department budget deficit. Absent significant infusions of cash to secure the long-term well-being of the programs, university president Wallace D. Loh said the school was cutting all three men’s track teams, men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs, men’s tennis, women’s water polo, aerobics and tumbling.
To avoid elimination, Loh gave each program until June 30 to raise eight years of program costs to enable the programs to be self-sustaining.
Earlier, Delaware State University announced it was shutting its relatively new women’s equestrian program, a decision that prompted a protest on horseback through the campus and a lawsuit against the school asserting the decision violated Title IX. The school said the program, which costs several hundred thousand dollars a year, needed to be cut for budget reasons. It eventually relented and the program escaped the chopping block.
There are numerous other examples of cuts ostensibly related to the economy and tight budgets. Title IX advocates argue that schools, especially those that make up the NCAA Division I (schools with more robust programs), could avoid some cuts by reallocating small portions of the funds generated by major money makers such as football and men’s and women’s basketball programs. For example, studies show that 80 percent of funds budgeted for men’s athletics is spent on football and basketball.
“Those teams aren’t getting cut because of Title IX,” says Shelley C. Davis, associate athletic director and SWA at Howard, referring to decisions by many schools to choose programs based on their potential for generating revenue. “Instead of blaming Title IX, they should blame the budget,” says Davis, echoing the sentiments of many others. She says the inclination of most schools to continue spending more and more on programs that have become cash cows has turned into an “athletic arms race” in which long-established moneymakers—football and men’s and women’s basketball—continue to garner the majority of funds allocated for varsity sports programs.
“They should spread the money around,” says Davis.
Recent experiences aside, some gender equity advocates complain that the overall pace of Title IX compliance mirrors the speed with which public school systems responded to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling outlawing racial segregation in public education.
For example, gender equity advocates say progress has been slow the past 40 years on a range of issues from elevating women to top positions (athletic director) of responsibility (HBCUs lead the pack in appointing women as athletic directors) to greater sharing of scholarship opportunities. The NCAA allows up to 80 scholarships per year for football players. It allows 18 for women’s track and field.
At the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, it is not uncommon to hear gender.
equity critics assert that gender equity is being achieved at the expense of male students, as some schools have reallocated spending and athletic scholarships in manners that have eliminated a male sport here and there and reduced the number of athletic scholarships earmarked for men’s intercollegiate athletic programs.
The Athletics Leadership Question
Regardless of the point of view, few argue that Title IX has made a big difference in college sports for women as participants. The achievements for women as employees are less clear, however.
According to the recent Acosta/Carpenter study, more than 90 percent of women’s teams were coached by women in 1972, the year Title IX was passed. Today, women comprise more than 40 percent of coaches of women’s teams. Only 2 to 3 percent—about 300 to 400—of women coach men’s varsity teams, while men comprise more than 57 percent—almost 5,300—of the coaches of women’s teams, the Acosta/Carpenter study found.
Women constitute 57 percent of the students on campuses of NCAA schools, according to the report. They constitute 35.8 percent of the athletic administrative staff and 20.3 percent of the ranks of head administrator (athletic director), the Acosta/Carpenter study found.
“The female voice is more often present than it was in 1984,” says the report, referring to the first time its survey was taken.
“But it is often a solitary female voice,” the two authors wrote.
There are also myriad questions about how much of this progress has been shared by women of color.
“Title IX has had a tremendous effect on opportunities for women to participate as athletes, administrators and coaches,” says University of Wisconsin law professor Linda S. Greene, a co-founder of the Black Women in Sport Foundation. “But, there’s a lot to be accomplished. We haven’t looked at how it’s benefited Black females. You can’t really assess the effectiveness of Title IX unless you are reporting on race and gender.”
For coaches like Howard University women’s lacrosse coach Sarah Schermerhorn, those leaders might come from the ranks of her team, which is made up of students with majors ranging from marketing to pre-law to nursing and early childhood education.
“It’s important to have balance, a wide range of sports,” says Schermerhorn, a member of Vanderbilt University’s first women’s Title IX-inspired lacrosse team in 1996. She says having a wide range of competitive sports programs for women, as has been historically true for men, gives female students another chance to learn hard work and teamwork, key skills for “success in after-college life.”