In the early days, not long after Title IX became law, the University of Texas called its coaches into a meeting. The women found themselves seated across a table from their male counterparts, including legendary football coach Darrell Royal.
Elated by the new legislation, the women made a bold request.
“We asked for half the athletic budget,” recalled Donna Lopiano, who oversaw women’s sports at the school. “The guys almost fell off their chairs.”
Today marks 25 years since President Richard Nixon signed Title IX--promising women a fair slice of the athletic pie--and the request from Lopiano and her colleagues no longer seems outrageous.
With more money and more teams, there are nearly nine times more girls playing high school sports. College participation has grown from 31,000 to 123,000. The surge of female athletes has given rise to new professional leagues such as the Women’s National Basketball Assn., which made its debut on network television Saturday.
“We are the product of Title IX,” said Rhonda Windham, a former USC star and general manager of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. “We would not be here if it wasn’t for the opportunities . . . the scholarships we received to play in college.”
But the tale of Title IX is not yet a success story.
Many universities still fall short of the balance that the law requires--in which the ratio of male to female athletes should equal that of the school’s enrollment. Faced with a recent spate of lawsuits, schools are rushing to attain that balance in an era of tight athletic budgets. Instead of adding women’s teams, they are cutting men’s teams.
Just this month, Cal State Northridge eliminated three men’s teams, including its nationally ranked baseball and volleyball programs.
And Lopiano, now executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation in New York, points to a recent NCAA report that shows women receive only 21% of Division I-A operating funds.
“There is so much to be done,” she said.
The current turmoil is consistent with Title IX’s troubled history. Written as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex . . . be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Federal officials spent much of the 1970s wrestling with how Title IX should apply to college athletics. A 1984 Supreme Court ruling said it should not apply at all. Four years later, Congress reinstated its jurisdiction.
The law calls for “proportionality"--if half the student body is female, half the varsity athletes should be female. There is also a clause by which schools can comply simply by showing improvement.
Still, many universities have procrastinated. Women have turned to the courts for help.
In a 1988 suit, Temple athletes claimed that, among other things, they were given mismatched uniforms and forced to travel by van while the men received better equipment and air travel. A Brown gymnast stopped her school from cutting two women’s teams in 1991. In 1993, the California chapter of the National Organization for Women sued all 20 schools in the Cal State University system, where woman accounted for only 30% of athletes.
NOW official Linda Joplin was intimately familiar with the issue. In the 1960s, her Oakland high school had no girls sports. She and her classmates asked the principal if they could form a swim team.
“The only time they would allow us to practice was at six o’clock in the morning,” Joplin said.
Thirty years later, Joplin’s lawsuit forced Cal State administrators into a tough settlement: State universities agreed to reach proportionality by the fall of 1998. San Francisco State had to cut football. Northridge eliminated baseball, volleyball and swimming. The soccer team is on one year’s notice.
Around the nation, other schools have found themselves in similar predicaments. Notre Dame cut wrestling. UCLA cut its men’s gymnastics and swimming programs while adding two women’s teams. USC dropped men’s programs while adding two women’s teams.
“Back in 1972, a federal law was passed and people stuck their heads in the sand and ignored it,” said Betsy Alden, president of the National Assn. of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators. “If proper planning had taken place, none of this would have happened.”
The demise of men’s programs has ignited a backlash. Critics question whether women are as interested in playing sports as men. They complain that football--with its large teams and operating costs--should be excluded from the gender equation.
Meanwhile, the National Women’s Law Center in Washington has filed a federal complaint against 25 colleges and universities where women receive as little as 25% of scholarship dollars. And the Women’s Sports Foundation has issued a “report card” grading participation, recruitment and budget allocations for women at 767 NCAA schools.
Yet for all the public debates and legal action, Title IX might be having its greatest influence in living rooms and on playgrounds.
“I don’t think people realize that over the last 25 years, the basic nature of the American woman has changed,” Lopiano said. “It has become acceptable for girls to play sports because the legislation has created a generation of moms and dads who believe their daughters can get an athletic scholarship to university.”
Windham was one of those daughters. Long before she played at USC, before she coached in Italy or joined the WNBA, the Bronx native received solemn parental advice.
“My mother told me in the fourth grade that she wanted me to go to college but that I’d have to get a scholarship,” Windham said. “Basketball was my best chance. That was something I could strive for because I knew it existed.”
* RANDY HARVEY: Title IX is a success. C2
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High School Athletic Participation
Note: Figures for 1974-75 and 1976-77 not available. Numbers are averaged.
Source: NCAA, National Federation of State High School Associations
NCAA Athletics Participation, 1971-72
The Womens’ Sports Foundation Gender Equity Report Card
A survey of 767 Division I, II and III NCAA schools for 1995-96 school year.
Male: $88,080,419 (35%)
Female: $164,786,746 (65%)
Male: $8,710,545 (36%)
Female: $85,559,597 (64%)
Male: $37,634,336 (49%)
Female: $39,675,078 (51%)
Male: $37,945,408 (37%)
Female: $63,872,093 (63%)
Male: $69,651,194 (22%)
Female: $253,087,768 (78%)
Male: $20,021,766 (32%)
Female: $60,371,638 (68%)
Male: $14,069,988 (37%)
Female: $23,482,136 (63%)
Male: $19,042,486 (34%)
Female: $38,780,805 (66%)
Male: $19,124,405 (38%)
Female: $31,258,089 (62%)
How classifications for Division I schools were determined:
I-A: Schools that have major football and basketball programs.
I-AA: Schools that usually have major basketball and smaller football programs.
I-AAA: Schools that have major basketball programs but no football.
Source: Women’s Sports Foundation