Sponsored by Under Armour and BSN SPORTS, Women of Will program.
Dr. Lindsey Darvin
Assistant Professor in the Sport Management Department, SUNY Cortland
Kavitha A. Davidson
New York-based sportswriter
Former co-host of The Lead, a daily sports podcast from The Athletic
Next June marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the historic, game-changing and glass-shattering federal law enacted on June 23, 1972. Title IX states, “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.”
Put another way, Title IX exists to ensure equality for students in every single aspect of education, including athletics. Today, we’ll dig into the impact of Title IX on sports with Dr. Lindsay Darvin, Assistant Professor at SUNY Cortland and Kavitha A. Davidson, a New York-based sportswriter and former co-host of the podcast, The Lead.
*Summit excerpt has been edited for clarity.
To hear the conversation in its entirety, watch our pre-recorded Women of Will Title IX Webinar >> VIEW TITLE IX SUMMIT NOW
How does Title IX intersect with athletics?
Dr. Darvin: Title IX was not enacted specifically for sports. It was created to provide equal opportunities for all, including men and boys at federally funded institutions. What ended up happening is many women heard about this law and saw a huge opportunity to ensure that women and girls now had access to sporting opportunities, so they actually petitioned, going state-by-state to ensure that mostly high school but some colleges got on board with this idea. There was tension because initially, this was not a policy that was easily adopted and embraced by everybody, but eventually, they saw how it really applied to intercollegiate sports’ three-prong test: proportionality, emerging opportunities and accommodating interests. Those were not a part of the original policy, so in 1979, many awesome women advocates started pushing this idea of getting sports in line with Title IX and leveraging it as part of the support for these policy interpretations. This is where the whole notion of “how do we apply the policy to sport?” comes from. There is language in the policy interpretations specific to spending on athletic facilities, athletic trainers and coaches’ salaries. Really laying it out as to how Title IX should be applied in a sports setting. I believe it’s my job to keep updating and further developing this federal law. I also believe the three-prong test is a little outdated because at least one of the prongs—the idea of emerging opportunities—is really kind of old at this point. But overall, the three-prong test really allows schools to be compliant with Title IX. Essentially, what folks do when they see them is they go down the line and start with the first prong. If that’s met, then they go to the second prong and so on—enabling schools to have three opportunities to be compliant with Title IX.
What is the impact of Title IX?
Dr. Darvin: Look at what we are doing right now. We have this amazing panel of women coaches and women in sports and that is a huge impact. We could go through the numbers, but over the course of fifteen to twenty years, we saw a 1,000% increase in participation among women and girls due to Title IX. So, participation-wise, it’s huge. But then my passion is how do we move girls to positions of leadership, and to me, that is where we see the greatest impact and just representations in general. The opportunities have expanded and now women and girls are seeing more opportunities at almost every level at the same rates of men and boys, which is fantastic. So, I would just say we have seen a lot of improvement in opportunities, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
What do you see as the core impact of Title IX on Women’s sports today, both positive and negative?
Ms. Davidson: Between 1972 to 2016, the percentage of women and girls in sports increased 545% and that is something we cannot deny. But if you bring it forward to today, a lot of schools will say they’re “Title IX compliant.” It’s just something they do, but if you dig deeper and look at the equipment available, for example, there are not always equities that we see. We saw this a lot in the college women’s basketball tournament at March Madness this past year. You also see a lot of misconceptions about Title IX and I think what Dr. Darvin pointed out, that the word “sport” is not in the actual law, is really important in that Title IX really is supposed to create equal opportunities in education around the country. People are usually fine with that notion—until it comes down to sports. Title IX is often an excuse for why schools cut men’s sports and we really saw this throughout COVID where Title IX became the scapegoat. Schools use it to shield themselves from financial issues and put the blame on this federal law.
How does Title IX impact athletic scholarships and budgets?
Ms. Davidson: Women make up to 53% of the athletic population, but athletic departments only use 36% of their athletic operating budgets on women’s sports. 32% of their recruiting budgets are spent on recruiting women athletes so you see the disproportionate ways the money is used. It’s estimated that at D1 schools, men receive 103 million dollars more in athletic scholarships than women every year. However, if you remove the schools that offer football and you compare the scholarship numbers for schools that don’t offer football, those numbers are equal, so football is the major outlier. It’s also good to note that men’s team normally have greater expenses than women’s teams, but you could argue they are allowed to have greater expenses than women’s teams and allowed to spend the money on greater facilities. Equally important is the fact that athletic department budgets don’t operate like the greater school budget. Frequently, male and female athletes will have partial scholarships, especially from non-revenue sports, which means several athletes in a program could be paying full tuition. Cutting a sport may reduce the athletic department’s cost, but that just means the school will lose revenue for the broader school budget.
To hear the conversation in its entirety, watch our pre-recorded Women of Will Title IX Webinar. As always, we want to thank you for continuing to strive for greatness, push past boundaries and inspire the next generation of female athletes.