The triumphs of Title IX

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The UT women’s volleyball victory against Long Beach State on Saturday night was a near thing. The 15 women on Texas’ team won the first two sets, lost the third and fourth and triumphed, finally, in the fifth, 15-11. In spite of its closeness, the win was particularly sweet — it marked Texas’ 1,000th volleyball win since the program’s inception in 1974.

1974 was a big year for women’s athletics at UT. That year, the volleyball team got its first coach, Pam Lampley, who led the team to a 21-15 record, the best in Texas. Also that year, UT awarded the first women’s athletic scholarships, doling out just 10.

Not all of that occurred by happenstance. Notably, 1974 was two years after the 1972 passage of Title IX, the federal law mandating, “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.”

Boiled down, Title IX means schools that want federal dollars — a group that certainly includes UT — must make sure women have equal opportunities as men, such as the chance to join sports teams. What has the landmark legislation meant at UT? In 2007, UT offered more than 150 scholarships for women’s athletics, including some for women who play on our victorious volleyball team.

Nationwide, the influence of Title IX cannot be overestimated. Prior to Title IX’s passage, women’s athletic options were primarily restricted to cheerleading and drill team, but all that has changed now since most public high schools adhere to Title IX given that they, too, depend on federal dollars. Girls at many high schools can now run track, swim and play soccer, basketball, volleyball, golf, softball and tennis.

But Title IX’s history has been uneven. The bill’s origins lie in an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson amended the order to include discrimination based on sex. From there the order evolved into a bill — first, in the form of an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and thenseparated and passed as its own title on June 23, 1972. For the most part, Title IX moved relatively quietly through the legislative process to its passage. It was after the fact, when it became law, that it attracted strong supporters, critics and significant attention.

Nearly four decades have passed since Title IX became law, and the distance affords us a new perspective from which to consider its lasting effects. For one, there is overwhelming evidence to support the notion that Title IX has been a positive force for girls and women. There are the obvious ones: the dramatic increase in female athletes in high schools and colleges nationwide, which has been linked in broad strokes to all things good for the women’s movement, even to lowering teen-pregnancy rates, in the press. A recent study conducted by Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, tethers roughly 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-34-year-old women to the original policies put in motion by Title IX.

But no legislation is perfect, particularly when executed, and Title IX is not flawless. This year, the College Sports Council, an advocacy organization that describes its mission in part as reforming Title IX regulations, conducted a study showing that male soccer players at NCAA Division I schools get the short end of the stick as a result of schools trying to meet Title IX gender quotas. The numbers are striking: about 310 women’s soccer teams compared to only 197 men’s teams, and 8,117 female players in Division I compare to just 5,607 male players. The study reports that 93.1 percent of Division I athletic programs offer women’s soccer but just 59.2 percent offer men’s soccer.

These numbers have driven home their point and may raise questions about whether some schools need to take another look at gender equality of sports programs, keeping men in mind. Overwhelmingly, however, the effects of Title IX — increasingly a part of history — are still powerfully present and should be celebrated. The underlying reality: Equality and athletics allow girls and boys, men and women, to thrive and lead healthy productive lives. And congratulations to the UT women’s volleyball team.