Marking the 45th anniversary of Title IX

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer

In an era when the longest college basketball winning streak belongs to a women’s team and the U.S. National women’s soccer team has gold medals and World Cup titles that the men’s team can only dream about, it might seem unimaginable that American athletics wasn’t always this way.

But you don’t have to go too far back to find women’s college basketball teams playing in auxiliary gyms, no scholarships (in fact, no teams) for women soccer players and girls not being allowed to play in Little League.

The ironic part is that Title IX was not originally created specifically to make the playing fields equal. It was, instead, created to make education as a whole equal. In part, it states that “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.”

Signed on June 23, 1972, Title IX ultimately was used to help create equal opportunities for women and girls to play sports using the same or equal facilities with same or equivalent equipment. Before Title IX, only about 1% of college athletic budgets went to female sports. In high school, male athletes outnumbered female athletes nearly 13 to 1. After its passage, there was a 600% increase in the number of women playing sports.

In fact, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta often is called the “Title IX Olympics,” for the number of female-led gold medal teams from the U.S. Along with the “Magnificent Seven” gold medal women’s gymnastics team, American women also claimed the team gold medals in women’s basketball, softball, soccer and synchronized swimming — while also finishing first in all five track-and-field and swimming relays.

The 1972 Olympics, held two months after the passage of Title IX, saw 84 women compete for the U.S., representing 21% of the team. At the 2016 Rio Games, more than half of the U.S. Olympic team was female. The nearly 300 U.S. Olympian women in Rio was the highest number of female athletes to ever represent a single nation.

Yes, Title IX has its critics from those who argue that women’s sports are sometimes added at the expense of men’s programs. But it’s hard to deny the opportunities that young girls are now afforded to be able to play the sports they love. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the increase in girls’ and women’s participation in sport since Title IX was passed in 1972 (by 560% at the college level and 990% in high schools) demonstrates that it was lack of opportunity – not lack of interest – that kept females out of high school and college athletics for so many years.

For Rebecca Lobo, the star of the 1995 UConn national championship team, Title IX meant she was able to play on her grade school’s basketball team, even though there weren’t enough players for a girls’ team.

In the book, “Playing Ball With the Boys: The Rise of Women in the World of Men’s Sports,” Lobo recalled: “My mother talked with the coach of the boys team, and he said, ‘There’s not enough girls to make a team so Rebecca won’t be able to play.’ And my mother said, ‘No that means that Rebecca will play on the boys’ team.’ And I did. So you might say I am a child of Title IX.”

In June, several organizations have held events celebrating the 45th anniversary of Title IX. But the most meaningful celebration might be your daughter’s winning goal or her college scholarship offer. Because without Title IX, those celebrations might never have happened.