How 50 years of Title IX changed American sports

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Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that banned gender discrimination in education and paved the way for a decades-long boom in women’s sports, turns 50 today.

Why is this important: Prior to Title IX, 294,000 girls participated in high school sports nationwide and only 15% of NCAA athletes were women. Today, those numbers are about 3.4 million and 44 percent, respectively.

  • This profound change contributed to the dominance of American women at the Olympics: in Tokyo, American women would have finished fourth in the medal standings (66) if they were a country.
  • Women’s soccer was one of the greatest successes of Title IX, with growth in participation directly fueling the rise of the USWNT and changing the landscape of the sport.
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What Title IX says: “No person in the United States shall, because of sex, be excluded from participation, denied benefits, or discriminated against in connection with any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Yes, but: Advocates argue that there is still significant progress to be made, particularly when it comes to hiring more female coaches and increasing budgets. There are also compliance issues:

  • A Women’s Sports Foundation report found that 86% of colleges provide a disproportionate number of athletic opportunities for men relative to their enrollment.
  • Additionally, dozens of schools are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to count male practice players as female participants when reporting their numbers to the Department of Education.
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And after: Half a century after Title IX empowered female athletes, they are now among the big winners of the new NIL era, representing another revolutionary leap forward.

  • By allowing female athletes to monetize their audiences outside of the still male-dominated college sports ecosystem, NIL regulations have already transformed athletics in ways that Title IX could not.
  • Worth noting: Some are warning that NIL and Title IX are on a collision course. “If the university organizes or offers offers for men and not for women, or vice versa, it has problems,” two lawyers wrote for Sportico. (subscription).

The bottom line: Despite its impact, 87% of American adults say they’ve heard next to nothing about Title IX, according to a recent poll. Hopefully the 50th anniversary celebration will get the attention this historic law deserves.

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