Title IX Reflections For The Women's World Cup

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The excitement is palpable and the anticipation is real! As the United States prepares to cheer on Team USA against Thailand June 11 at the Women’s World Cup, this is the perfect time to reflect upon the historical journey women’s athletics have taken to secure a pre-eminent place in our nation today.

We all remember the 1999 World Cup when Team USA defeated China. The joyous victory celebration which ensued saw Brandi Chastain rip her shirt off in a blissful moment of triumph, forever branding her iconic image in the annals of sports history. That match had the highest television ratings for any female sport in American history.

Outdoor soccer has the third highest number of participants among all team sports. The number of female high school players has increased steadily from 2009 through 2018. While these are all encouraging statistics, it wasn’t so long ago that women had but scant opportunities for playing sports, much less making it their full-time careers.

Women’s athletics began their upward trajectory with the passage of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. Meant to prohibit discrimination against women under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial aid, its sponsors sought professorships and research dollars for women. Athletics were barely a fleeting consideration during the bill’s congressional hearings.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the gross inequities between women’s and men’s sports teams to rear their ugly heads. For example, men had chartered buses for travelling, while women were forced to resort to bake sales to pay the gas in their own vehicles to attend “away” games. The incongruence in sports’ budgets was another area. Only 1% of athletic program budgets were allocated for women’s sports. One large University in the northwest had a $2 million budget in which only $18,000 went to women. Women’s teams had to put up with leftover equipment the men discarded, rarely having the finances to purchase new gear. In addition, sexism was seen in coaching salaries, hiring practices, support staff and athletic director benefits. One female athletic director had a 200 square foot office with a part-time assistant, while her male counterpart had a suite of offices, 5 secretaries, a bookkeeper and a personal assistant.

To address these imbalances and to clarify how Title IX was to be implemented, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) devised its first set of regulations on enforcement in 1975. Imparted to the Office of Civil Rights, the regulations called for equal opportunity in all areas including practice times, facilities, coaches’ compensation, academic tutoring and medical staff.

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was the organization that controlled women’s sports at colleges and universities in the 1970’s. The group’s philosophy stressed education first. While sports were important to the overall experience of its athletes, it was secondary to the emphasis on education. The AIAW chose to distinguish itself from the ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). After the NCAA began offering its own championships for women in 1981, the AIAW dissolved.

As the years passed, the federal government added to its Title IX guidelines. To show compliance today, schools must address three areas. First, institutions must show the opportunity for women to participate using a three-pronged test. The first one ties women’s participation in athletics to the enrollment at its institution. For example, if a school shows women as 55% of its student body, then its women’s teams must be 55% of all athletes. The second prong must show that a school has had a history of increasing its athletic opportunities for women over time. The final prong, the most commonly used compliance method at the university level, must show that it “fully and effectively” accommodates the interests of women to participate in sports.

The second area for compliance concerns scholarship money. The money distributed for scholarships must be in proportion to the number of female and male athletes participating. The final area fulfilling Title IX guidelines covers the totality of sports programs through the lens of eleven key areas. These areas include the scheduling of games and practices, publicity dollars, and locker room facilities.

Title IX’s monumental influence on women’s athletics cannot be overstated. In 1981, there were 100 female soccer teams at the collegiate level. Today, there are 959 teams. Only 10,000 girls played soccer in high school in 1976. Last year, that number was over 390,000. As we watch Team USA on our favorite couch or at the local sports bar, don’t forget how far women’s sports have come in forty-seven years.

Corye Perez Beene is a Professor in the Department of History at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. clbeene@southplainscollege.edu  twitter@HistoryBeene

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