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Title IX and Obama

Most areas of college sports are not impacted one way or another by who the President of the United States is. However, there is one area that sees changes every time a new President is elected. A lot of people don’t realize how Title IX enforcement is tied to the priorities of the President. Under the Bush Administration, Title IX has survived, but that is about it. There was a Commission established to examine the law (most people think it was established to kill the law), a lack of people to enforce the complaints that the Office of Civil Rights did receive, and the addition of a loophole allowing schools to use “interest surveys” (under extremely flawed methodology) to prove they were accommodating the athletics interests and abilities of their female students.

In a December 2008 lecture at Smith College, sports economist Andrew Zimbalist reflected on Title IX during the Bush years. He cited the following statistics from presidential administrations, “During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the number of female collegiate athletes increased by 9 percent. It also grew by 2 percent during the Reagan administration and by 10 percent during Clinton’s. Under the Bush administration, however, female participation in college sports has stagnated. According to Zimbalist, during Bush’s time in office, athletic funding for women has dropped from 37 percent to 34 percent of funds.”

For those of us that are concerned about continuing to increase opportunities for girls and women to play sports,  there is reason to believe that good news is on the horizon as Obama gets ready to take office.

In a recent article on the NCAA website, Obama is quoted as saying,”When I’m president, I’ll fight to make sure our female students have equal opportunities from pre-kindergarten all the way through graduate school. I will strengthen Title IX enforcement at the Department of Education … And I will direct my Department of Education to help schools take steps to fulfill their Title IX obligations in both the sports and academic arenas,” the statement said. “I am the father of two young girls who are growing up playing sports and who are beneficiaries of the doors Title IX opened.”

and from USA Today from May 9, 2008, Obama stated that, “For 36 years, Title IX has been a bulwark against sex discrimination against students and employees at all levels of education, and has led to a significant increase in the athletic participation of women and girls. We know that problems remain, however, as demonstrated by the number of complaints to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about discrimination against female teams. Despite these ongoing problems, enforcement by the Office for Civil Rights has been ineffective. Although complaint volume remains high, compliance reviews have dropped, the focus of the reviews has narrowed, and the agency has taken a lax approach to enforcement. In addition, the Bush Administration undertook a review of Title IX that was apparently geared to killing this important policy.

I will do more to ensure effective protection from sex discrimination. I will target resources to improve Title IX enforcement, including compliance reviews and technical assistance. To address discrimination at the high school level, I will support the High School Sports Information Collection Act, which directs schools to make information on equality in athletic programs publicly available. This information is already required at the college level. Finally, the National Women’s Law Center and other groups have highlighted that, as a result of Department of Education guidance, many schools are demonstrating compliance with Title IX through a use of a survey to female students. If the students fail to respond, that failure is cited as a lack of interest in playing sports. I believe schools should be more proactive in satisfying their Title IX obligations in both the sports arena and academic areas, and I will direct my Department of Education to assist schools in using broader measures to assess the level of participation in sports among women and girls.”

This is such fantastic news! Not only that Obama is concerned with Title IX as it relates to sport, but also that he has considered the law as it applies to all of education. Plus, given his response in USA Today he is very well informed about areas that need attention with respect to the law.

Even better is the possibility for advocates of women’s sports to align with advocates of men’s sports that have been seeing their programs eliminated in recent years. As most are aware, these sport cuts are often blamed on Title IX, when the the institution is in serious financial trouble and it out of compliance with Title IX.  It would be so great to stop blaming Title IX for reductions in some men’s sports across the country.There have been other academicians arguing this point for a while and recently Dave Ridpath, Athena Yiamouyiannis, Kristen Galles, and I published “Changing Sides: The Failure of the Wrestling Community’s Challenges to Title IX and New Strategies for Saving NCAA Sport Teams (OU students can access the full article through the library website). The gist of the article is that individuals that are concerned with the elimination of men’s sports teams (i.e. wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, track and field) should begin to look at the real reasons for decline  (i.e. spending on football and men’s basketball that is out of control). Since the real reasons related to the elimination of men’s sports programs are the same as those that are stifling the growth of women’s programs, the two groups of advocates should get on the same page to figure out a solution. Obama may provide just the attitude of change and hope that will allow these two groups of perennial enemies to begin to refocus on what is really important instead of spending time arguing about Title IX while opportunities are being lost.

As the NCAA article indicates, nobody really knows what the Obama Administration will ultimately do with respect to Title IX. I, however, am optimistic that we will see greater enforcement and a re commitment to equity in sport in educational institutions at all levels.


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January 15, 2009 - Posted by | Diversity, Gender Equity and Title IX, Uncategorized |

1 Comment »

  1. I am glad to hear that Obama is such a strong proponent of Title IX. Many of you that read this may not be aware of what it was like for female athletes before Title IX. Having been a female varsity athlete at Stanford University in tennis, basketball and bowling from 1964-1968, I can speak from experience. Even though I won a conference championship in tennis, I never saw one penny of scholarship money. We paid almost all of own expenses for travel and equipment, except for one tennis tournament each year that had a benefactor. There were no corporate sponsors for female athletes, was very little help from the university and little hope of a professional athletic career. We played because we loved the sport and the competition. What we got in return was a little recognition in the press, a few trophies, and the satisfaction of having competed for our college.

    Thirty years later I was honored and thrilled when Stanford sent me a letter and a certificate recognizing my accomplishments and contribution to the sports program. Here is a quote from the 1995 letter, signed by Ted Leland, the Athletic Director in 1995: “I am enclosing your Block S certificate which was officially awarded at the May 15 event. Congratulations! Recognition for your athletic accomplishments is long overdue. I am pleased that we are now giving you your rightful distinction as a Block S Award winner.” It included a lifetime pass to all sporting events except football, basketball and volleyball. I know that the University of Washington also honored their past female athletes in a similar fashion, as I was invited to that ceremony a few years ago.

    After reading this I hope some of you have a better appreciation of the opportunities that Title IX has provided for female athletes across the county. I was very fortunate to attend a university that had several female sports teams, because in the 60’s many did not. I would love to hear from any male collegiate athletes from that era and how they viewed the women’s programs. I hope that Obama follows through with his promises.

    Comment by Liz Lawrence | January 16, 2009 | Reply


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