So how could Title IX be improved?

It’s a complex question, even if you somehow leave aside politics or the current academic climate or all the dollars now involved in big-time college sports. Starting over, 50 years later, what would you do? Could true gender equality be achieved? Could certain men’s sports not feel damaged by the process? Would they have been started in the first place?

“This is the final exam question in my class every year,” said Bonnie Morris, who teaches Sports and Gender at the University of California at Berkeley and previously taught it at Georgetown and George Washington.

Go back even further, Morris suggested, and imagine starting the whole college sports landscape over, right from the beginning, with gender equality in mind. Could fields be divided up in different ways? Would there actually be less resentment on the male side of things as resources or even the sport itself aren’t taken away?

If college sports began now from scratch, might resources be divided more fairly?

“Really make it so it’s not a battle between men and women,” Morris said.

“Equity for everything,” said Thomas Jefferson University athletic director Tom Shirley, who also coaches the women’s basketball team, and has won 821 career games. “Operating, scholarships, education training, training room services.”

Keeping it simple, Shirley is saying.

“One hundred percent equity for comparable sports,” Shirley said, making it clear he’s talking about schools that don’t field football teams.

There’s the big asterisk. If you field a football team, there’s no equivalent on the women’s side. Can football be removed from the process? Not by law. That’s why it’s not unusual to see Power 5 schools, or other schools with football, field more women’s teams than men’s teams.

“Increasingly, if you look at athletic dollars as the big pie, it’s like football and basketball vs. all the other sports,” Morris said. “The other sports, men and women, are being relegated to the margins.”

This month, an AP-NORC poll sponsored by the National Women’s History Museum found that men are vastly more likely than women to report progress toward equal treatment of women in sports, 51% vs. 31%. In the poll, 15% of Americans found women had more opportunities than men in college sports, while 37% said women had about the same opportunities, and 45% said women had fewer opportunities. The poll also found that 84% of Americans considered it to be either essential (48%) or “important but not too essential” (36%) that Title IX provides equal opportunities for all students to participate in sports.

Such issues can be viewed from different prisms. At those places where those sports bring in revenues, should so much be shared with athletes from other sports? Should a basketball player’s efforts provide a tennis player’s scholarship? Title IX regulations don’t delve into such matters.

Does football have to take away from other sports? Not necessarily, at least away from the big time. Drexel athletic director Maisha Kelly noted that Bucknell, where she used to be Title IX coordinator as a top sports administrator, was able to “cycle in” 60 scholarships for football without taking away opportunities from other sports. Kelly said Title IX’s overall impact “helped accelerate your women’s teams in terms of financial aspects.”

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Other men’s programs are losing ground. Wrestling programs have been dwindling for years. Many baseball teams were first fighting for space at landlocked universities, then fighting for the life of the program if that space wasn’t found on campus. Locally, Drexel, Temple, and most recently La Salle have all dropped baseball.

On her final exam question, Morris said, “all of the athletes have suggested, please don’t have the solution be cutting existing men’s teams. That simply doesn’t create a good environment.”

How could Title IX be improved?

“A public relations campaign,” said retired West Chester University women’s basketball coach Deidre Kane. “Let it be clear that the intent is to create opportunities for women, not to decrease opportunities for men. Perhaps lavish spending in other areas responsible for men’s sports being discontinued. How many ‘revenue sports’ actually produce more revenue dollars than dollars spent?”

The answer, Kane said, is usually only in those conferences “which in actuality serve as minor leagues for professional men’s sports.”

Morris wonders why universities can’t do a better job of promoting women’s sports “without spending an extra dime.” Just note that women’s games are being played during parents weekends, when more than half the parents are coming to a visit a daughter on campus.

“That drives me insane,” said Morris, who has written a book, “What’s the Score? 25 years of Teaching Women’s Sports History.”

“They could add, ‘Attend a women’s game,’ " Morris said. “The argument is, they’re not as exciting. Baloney.”

Morris noted that the 50th anniversary of Title IX is being memorialized by the media in an entirely different manner than the 25th anniversary in 1997. One main reason, she suggested, is that there has been a proven return on investment from Title IX. For instance, the 1999 World Cup wouldn’t take place for another two years back at the 25th anniversary. That USA women’s team took over the popular culture and then took out China in a memorable shootout. Add in gold medals in a host of Olympic sports. Morris points more recently to WNBA players and women’s soccer players as being leaders as public activists.

“The slow pace of history comes up against today’s immediacy,” Morris said of the current landscape.

Pressures are brought on the athletes themselves. Do nonrevenue college sports really need year-round practices (and year-round “nonmandatory” daily workouts)? If the coach is feeling pressure to keep his or her high salary, then probably, yes.

“I’ve seen enormous stress put on kids from being on travel teams from the age of age of 5, with pressure on them to specialize from a young age,” Morris said. “I would say a lot of the [college] student-athletes are grateful they learned how to manage their time, but they’re exhausted,” Morris said. “I’ve never been pressured to change a student’s grade. But I have had complaints that [athletes] have wanted to take my class but couldn’t because of timing. There’s no question they are treated as quasi-professionals with those expectations.”

Men’s and women’s athletes, she’s saying. Pressures and workloads often achieve full gender equity.

But, many say, start with opportunities when you’re looking at gender equity issues. Kelly, the athletic director at Drexel and once a captain of the track team at St. Joseph’s, was asked to think about how Title IX has factored into her own life. She started right on Hawk Hill.

“As a woman who relied on a scholarship to attend college, there’s no doubt that having a law in place” helped schools such as St. Joseph’s move in the direction of providing funds “for women to go on.”

Not just colleges, Kelly said. High schools and grassroots programs have flourished in providing launching pads.

“You had a storied men’s track and field program,” Kelly said of joining St. Joe’s track. “Then you had the ability to quickly build a women’s program that caught up to speed.”

Could Title IX be improved? Kelly chooses a different word.

“It needs to evolve, and look at things through a 2022 lens,” she said, meaning looking beyond participation rates and scholarships and toward what true equality looks like. Kelly said you can’t force people to attend events, or to fund sponsorships. But institutions can push such issues to the forefront.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate that Title IX is an incredible legislation that has impacted access, but also as we think about evolving it, we should look at access across socioeconomic and racial/ethnic demographics,” Kelly said.

Athletic directors at all levels will tell you Title IX has become a “top of priority list” consideration, with Title IX coordinators on many campuses expanding to Title IX committees, with a need for funding and staffing being an important part of budget discussions.

Plenty of ADs will say (off the record) how Title IX was maybe the most challenging issue to be dealt with over the years. Different institutions interpreted Office for Civil Rights regulations in different ways in efforts to be compliant. Schools that lost money on athletics overall couldn’t use that as a funding excuse for women’s sports. Again, perhaps the biggest challenge has been at schools that have a football team. What does equity look like when resources are being poured into one male sport that does not have a female equivalent? An even bigger challenge if the male population percentage of the college is falling. How do you remain competitive and compliant?

It needs to evolve, and look at things through a 2022 lens.

Drexel AD Maisha Kelly on Title IX

“Lots of attorneys and consultants did well as these issues were analyzed at every institution,” noted one veteran athletic director.

Roster counting is a huge part of the landscape. A full roster is one thing, but if you’re adding more players for a team than are ever needed simply to comply with Title IX, you’re ignoring the intent of the Department of Education’s regulations.

Carole Oglesby, who was the first president of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women before becoming a longtime professor at Temple, talked of “innumerable impacts on the positive side” from Title IX. But she mentioned, “social change that’s kind of monumental has unexpected effects. Not only unexpected, but you can’t control the outcome in a precise way.”

Oglesby, who had opposed the merging of the AIAW into the NCAA, said women’s sports moving under the umbrella of the NCAA — “In my way of thinking, the group of people who benefited the fastest were men.”

She wasn’t talking about the athletes, but the adults. Suddenly, men were in charge of departments that included female athletes. “Men took over the championships. Departments were merged.”

Oglesby then added the word “submerged” when it came to the women’s part of that equation. While salaries went up for women’s coaches, that also meant male coaches were more interested in going for the jobs and more likely to get them.

The percentage of female head coaches in women’s sports “dropped from 95% to a low of 40 to 45%,” Oglesby said. “It’s maybe creeping upwards now, 50 years later.”

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Looking at City 6 head coaches of women’s programs, the aggregate count right now is 35 female coaches out of 60 programs. Programs that are only offered to women typically have female coaches. All the City 6 field hockey and softball coaches, for instance, are women. Basketball has two male coaches out of the six programs. The biggest disparity is in programs where there is one head coach for combined men’s and women’s teams. That almost always has a male coach in charge, with the sole exception being Kerry Smith in charge of the combined men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs at La Salle.

Within local Division I college administrations, some jobs are filled by women more than others. Currently, three of the City 6 athletic directors are women, a sea change. Right now, at those same schools, five of the six administrators in charge of external relations, or marketing, are male. Meanwhile, five of six heads of compliance, the people in charge of making sure NCAA rules are followed, are female.

College sports that are dropped, Morris said, are typically dropped in decisions made in rooms populated predominantly by men, as have most historic college decisions.

“It’s not some feminist plot,” Morris said of Title IX.