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Title IX explained: Here’s what to know about the landmark law that has impacted sports for 50 years

Many people don't understand the ramifications of Title IX, so here are some answers to common questions about the groundbreaking legislation.

Madison Siegrist (center, right) embraces teammate Brianna Herlihy as the Villanova women’s basketball team reacts to their seed announcement during the Selection Sunday watch event at Villanova’s William B. Finneran Pavilion in March. .
Madison Siegrist (center, right) embraces teammate Brianna Herlihy as the Villanova women’s basketball team reacts to their seed announcement during the Selection Sunday watch event at Villanova’s William B. Finneran Pavilion in March. .Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

When Title IX was signed into law 50 years ago, sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs officially became illegal.

In the decades since, there have been many debates over what Title IX means, to whom it applies, and what it encompasses. As The Inquirer tells Philadelphia’s Title IX stories, here’s everything to know about Title IX:

What does Title IX say?

“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.”

What does Title IX do?

Title IX is a federal civil rights law. It was authored by Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana as part of the Education Amendments. It was initially introduced in 1971 and then again — this time successfully —in 1972. Then-President Richard Nixon signed it into law on June 23, 1972.

Why was Title IX passed?

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which among other things, banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, it called for the desegregation of public facilities and barred unequal voting rules and registration requirements. While the initial Civil Rights Act did not mention sex-based discrimination, it was added in Title VII of the amendments. However, the act still didn’t mention discrimination in education or education fields, so Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 sought to address that.

What is included under ‘any education program or activity’?

Those two things encompass a variety of topics, including recruitment and admissions of students to schools and programs and the counseling opportunities provided. Financial assistance must be given on an equal basis. People must have equal opportunities in athletics. Sex-based harassment, including sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, is considered sex-based discrimination and banned, as is retaliation for any allegations. Pregnant and parenting students are protected, as are LGBTQI+ students. Discipline must not be biased based on a student or participant’s sex. Single-sex education must be as extensive and available for each sex. And employment in these areas must also be free from discrimination.

Where do athletics come in?

Athletics are considered an educational activity — teams are associated with schools from universities on down, and schools also offer physical education.

While initially making no mention of sports, Title IX has come to be most popularly known for its effect on them. This came about after it was argued that it should not be about sports. Two years after Title IX was passed, Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas proposed the Tower Amendment, which stated that revenue-producing sports should be exempt from Title IX. His proposal backfired. Not only was it rejected, it also led to the widespread misconception that Title IX is only about sports.

What type of pushback has Title IX faced?

Tower and his supporters tried three more times to pass bills that would restrict Title IX’s power over revenue-producing sports. They felt Title IX didn’t account for a sport like football that required more expensive equipment, more players, and generated more revenue.

The NCAA initially lobbied hard against Title IX, fearing it would hurt men’s athletics, and it supported many of the bills Tower and his supporters proposed. However, as women’s sports grew more popular, the NCAA went from leaving women’s championships to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women to offering championships for women itself. This eventually led to the demise of the AIAW.

People continue to argue that Title IX hurts male sports. They say more men are interested in sports, so providing equal opportunities for both men and women isn’t fair. They point to the numerous men’s programs that have been cut so that universities can remain compliant with Title IX, a practice that started in the 1990s when schools could not afford to expand women’s programs and instead decided to cut. The opponents of this argument say unequal opportunities for women in the past are what led to a difference in interest.

The NCAA now states on its website that Title IX actually helps male sports because it prohibits discrimination for either sex and that the reason Title IX is perceived as helping women more is because women have a longer way to go to reach equality.

The big debate recently is whether Title IX protects transgender athletes. Barack Obama’s administration said it did, but Donald Trump’s administration rolled that back. Joe Biden released Executive Order 14021 to include gender identity and sexual orientation to the amendments, but that is still under review.

Who has to comply with Title IX?

In 1984, in Grove City College v. Bell, the Supreme Court ruled that Title IX could be applied to a private school that did not receive direct federal funding. However, it only would be applied to Grove City’s financial aid department, not the school as a whole. The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 overturned the precedent set by that ruling, requiring all institutions that receive direct or indirect funding to comply. Almost all colleges fall under this umbrella because their students receive federal financial aid, even if the school itself does not.

How has participation in athletics increased under Title IX?

In 1971, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, which was about 8% of the boys’ participation numbers. By the end of the first decade, that number jumped to 53%. Girls participated in 14 high school sports in 1971 as opposed to 26 male sports. Now, boys and girls participate in more than 50 sports across the country. Synchronized swimming is the only sport without a boys team in the country. Girls participate in every sport, although their participation numbers are at 75% of boys’ participation numbers.

What disparities still exist?

In addition to the participation numbers, it recently was pointed out that there are major differences in the accommodations for women’s and men’s sports when a video comparing the weight room at the women’s NCAA basketball tournament to the men’s went viral. When the NCAA hired a law firm to investigate equity issues, the 153-page report revealed that the NCAA spends significantly more on male athletes than female athletes.

Now that college athletes can profit off their names, images, and likenesses, the disparity could grow quickly. And as schools struggle to adapt to the NIL era, they have to make sure they are providing the same opportunities for male and female athletes even though male sports are seen as the moneymakers.

As the popularity and relevance of female sports have grown, the number of male coaches and administrators has increased while women in those roles have decreased. There are fewer women in positions of power, and their salaries are much lower than those of their male counterparts.

What doesn’t Title IX mandate?

While Title IX states there must be an equal number of scholarship dollars spent on men’s and women’s sports proportionate to enrollment, it does not state that the same amount of money be spent on each. For example, football pads are much more expensive than women’s volleyball pads. However, the quality of each must be the same, especially within the same sport: The women’s hockey team must have the same quality of gear as the men’s hockey team.

Schools also don’t have to offer the same teams for men and women, just the same overall number of opportunities.

The NCAA itself does not have to comply with Title IX, but its member schools do. This was reinforced by a unanimous decision delivered by former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1999.

How is Title IX compliance assessed?

Every institution must have at least one person assigned to coordinate the school’s compliance with Title IX. On the national scale, the Office for Civil Rights assesses compliance. Schools must pass one of three tests: 1) the numbers of men and women participating in sports are proportionate to the school’s enrollment numbers; 2) the school has a history of and proof of current efforts to equalize opportunities; or 3) the school is making an effort to accommodate the underrepresented sex’s interests in sports that are dominated by a specific gender. They also must provide equal scholarship opportunities and equal treatment.

A clarification: Title IX legislation was written and introduced by Sen. Birch Bayh, and was championed and shepherded by Reps. Patsy Mink and Edith Green.This article originally listed the wrong author for the amendment, which Bayh authored.