Title IX and Girls' Sports

"Title IX," commonly known for its application to athletics, has played an important but controversial role in expanding athletics opportunities for women and girls. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The statute applies to athletics programs at federally funded private and public educational institutions, and is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. As outlined in the 1979 Policy Interpretation, Title IX regulation for athletics requires compliance in financial assistance, accommodation of interests and abilities, and other program areas. The Policy Interpretation, though designed for intercollegiate athletics, may also apply to club, intramural, and inter-scholastic athletics programs.

Since the passage of Title IX, the number of girls participating in athletics has risen dramatically. Fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports in 1971, compared to more than 3.6 million boys; by 2001, the number for girls had reached over 2.7 million, compared to more than 3.9 million boys. The perception of female athletes in society has also undergone change as a result of Title IX. Increased media coverage of women's sports, successes at the Olympic Games, and the establishment of professional leagues reflect only a few ways in which women are redefined by their image in athletics. Many argued, however, that despite the apparent progress Title IX has made in promoting gender equity, women and girls continued to receive unequal opportunities, benefits, and treatment.

Title IX's meaning for athletics in the United States has been contested since the 1970s, spawning debates in Congress, courts, educational institutions, and various organizations. In particular, the three-part test for assessing Title IX compliance has generated intense disagreement about the intent and purpose of Title IX. Opponents of the test argue that it creates proportionality "quotas" which discriminate against males, leaving schools little choice other than to eliminate, or to reduce budgets for, male sports programs. Others contend that since females are inherently less interested in playing sports than males, the test embodies a misinterpretation of Title IX. Proponents of the three-part test emphasize the correlation between interest levels and a history of discriminatory policies, and argue that female teams and Title IX have been wrongly blamed for the decisions schools make regarding male teams. Stronger enforcement of Title IX regulation, some believe, is necessary to ensure that educational institutions provide nondiscriminatory opportunities for females in all areas of athletics.

Much of the debate surrounding Title IX has centered on the statute's application to intercollegiate programs, but Title IX compliance remains problematic at the younger levels as well. For example, in Communities for Equity v. Michigan High School Athletic Association (2001) a U.S. District Court ruled that the scheduling of female high school sports in nontraditional seasons was in violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Further research that focuses on elementary and secondary school athletics programs is needed to fully examine Title IX's impact on girls' participation in sports. As the controversy over Title IX continues to unfold both on and off the field, this landmark piece of legislation will have far-reaching implications for athletics for both girls and boys.

See also: .


National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. 2002. Title IX Athletics Policies: Issues and Data for Education Decision Makers. Washington, DC: National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

"A Policy Interpretation: Title IX and Intercollegiate Athletics." 1979. Federal Register 44, no. 239: 71413 et seq. Microfiche.

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. 1997. Title IX: 25 Years of Progress. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.


National Federation of High School Associations. 2002. "2001 High School Participation Survey." Available from www.nfhs.org/.