Collegiate Sports Gender Equity Not Yet A Reality, Experts Say

Washington, D.C. — Although women have made tremendous strides in collegiate sports since the 1972 passage of Title IX, significant work remains before women achieve equality with men on campus.

That was the thrust of one of several events held here in the nation’s capital Thursday meant to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark federal legislation that outlawed sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs and activities.

“We’ve come a long way since Title IX has passed, but we have a long way to go,” Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said Thursday at the Center for American Progress during a panel discussion titled “Playing Fair: Title XI Now.”

Chaudhry’s remarks echoed a new report titled “Title IX at 40” by the National Coalition for Women and Girls.

Among other things, that report found that while fewer than 30,000 women participated in college sports in the 1971-1972 school year, in 2010-2011 the number had grown more than six-fold to 190,000.

Similar gains were made in the amount of money devoted to female athletes.

For instance, in 1972, athletic scholarships for women were nonexistent, but in 2009–2010, women received 48 percent of the total athletic scholarship dollars at Division 1 schools, although they received only 40 percent of total money spent on athletics, despite making up 53% of the student body, the report found.

Still, males continue to have more opportunities to participate in sports than females at all school levels, the report found and several speakers said.

Christine Grant, a longtime Title IX champion and former athletic director at the University of Iowa, lamented statistics showing that males participate in sports at higher rates than women.

NCCA research shows that throughout Divisions I, II and III, more males participate in sports than do women, even though women make up a higher percentage of college students — 53.8 percent, to be precise — than men, who make up 46.4 percent. But in Division I, for instance, the current average proportion of participation is 54.4 percent male and 45.6 percent female, according to the latest NCAA Gender-Equity Report.

 “I’m sorry to give you bad news, because we’re supposed to be celebrating,” Grant said. “But sometimes it’s necessary to look at the reality of the situation so we can determine what we’re going to do about it.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a four-time Olympic swimming medalist who now serves as senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation, said there’s no excuse for not having gender equality in intercollegiate sports.

Her organization has found that 3.1 million girls and 4.4 million boys play high school sports. But once in college, NCAA figures show, about 79,000 women and 92,000 men play sports — figures that Hogshead-Makar said should be less disparate.

“There’s no way to say they can’t find talent,” said Hogshead-Makar, author of a book tilted “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change.”

She also cited figures that show male participation in college sports has always been higher than female participation, dispelling notions that Title IX would hurt male sports on campus.

“Women’s gains do not come at the expense of men,” Hogshead-Makar said.

Thursday’s event was as much history lesson as it was a call to action.

“It’s important to remember that Title IX was never just about sports,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“It has been known that way but that really wasn’t the focus,” Sebelius said. “In fact, it was really broadly about our education system,” she said, citing what she described as “deeply-rooted” gender discrimination that permeated higher education in 1972.

“Women were discouraged from taking certain classes, [colleges] were reluctant to hire women as professors and most professional schools limited the number of women they admitted,” Sebelius said. “In America, education has been the route to a better life and a more prosperous future. Women were really shut out of that better life and prosperous future.”

Sebelius — who played basketball and field hockey at Trinity College prior to Title IX — called sports a “truly formative experience” that teaches teamwork, how to stay cool under pressure and how to win and lose gracefully. The former Kansas governor also credits sports with teaching her numerous other lessons that she said helped prepare her for her career in government and said Title IX has helped broaden those opportunities for millions more women.

“We have a long way to go but thanks to the vision laid out in Title IX, women have far more opportunity today than when I graduated from college in 1970,” Sebelius said.

Other speakers included Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy, Center for American Progress, who recounted her role developing Title IX intercollegiate policy as principal deputy of the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office for Civil Rights under President Jimmy Carter; and Erin Hamlin, world champion in luge, who said she owed her own sports career in part to the work done by those who laid the foundation for Title IX.