Title IX: Slowed by Tradition

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Men’s glorious feats in sport have been recorded throughout history, from Homer’s ancient literary classic to Leroy Neiman’s contemporary Olympic art. The touching tales of the trials as well as the triumphs of individual male athletes have been preserved. We have been privileged to know them as people and have grown fond of them as characters. If one searches with enthusiasm, a case can be made that women too have been active creatures throughout history; but it is apparent that this kind of study exposes limited and sporadic participation.

Most American sports enthusiasts who could recite a never-ending litany of male sports heroes would probably sum up their knowledge of women’s athletic accomplishments in three statements. First, they are amazed at the accomplishments of Babe Didrikson Zaharias and recognize her as a “real” athlete; secondly, they acknowledge that the USA was pretty much “saved” by the number of medals won by female performances at the Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan; and finally, they wonder how women will be able to spend all the money they will surely inherit as a result of Title IX!

Dr. Mary Roby

Title IX. Two simple words, the mention of which seems to elicit about as much emotional reaction as ecology or the Vietnam War. Title IX is a 37-word law passed in 1972, prohibiting educational programs and institutions who receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. The concept of such a law could be understood by even the most naïve. Still, it took an additional three years before the Regulations (explaining how this law should be implemented) became effective in July, 1975. Pages and pages of rules and regulations were set forth, and most programs (with the exception of intercollegiate athletics) within institutions at all levels proceeded to comply with the law.

It was difficult to pick up a newspaper during the 1970s without finding a reference to Title IX. There were questions, statements, arguments, rejections, discussions, but there never seemed to be a consensus on the meaning of Title IX.

In December 1979, HEW issued a Policy Interpretation of the intercollegiate athletic provisions of the law and its implementing regulations. Another dozen pages were published to explain the regulations and supply a framework for resolving the problem.

All this time and paperwork leads most observers to wonder why it has taken so much time and rhetoric to achieve the kind of cooperation needed to eliminate discrimination in athletics. But what is right and reasonable often takes a back seat to tradition, economic pressures and power. Those who are familiar with the history of men’s and women’s athletics in this country can readily understand that our athletic heritage, combined with our human nature, interact to make what appear to be simple solutions in our work-a-day world.

Although Title IX impacted all programs at institutions receiving federal funds, it is apparent that athletic programs find compliance to this new law a particularly painful process. It is painful to women who find that often they must push, cajole and threaten to obtain what federal law has granted them, and it is painful to some men who do not wish to give up their territorial rights. And it is painful to all athletic directors who are forced to find more dollars to appropriately fund men’s and women’s sports. Why is there such conflict over making the necessary adjustments to comply to this federal mandate? What keeps educated people from working with one another, in good faith, to achieve goals that most men and women athletic administrators espouse? In large measure the problem revolves around tradition.

Prior to 1972, women’s college athletic programs were basically club sports. These were low-key activities that had little financial support, and even less visibility. Practice time was limited and competitive schedules were restricted. Typically, the coach of these teams was a full-time physical education teacher who volunteered to sponsor the team. These programs were usually an out-growth of the women’s physical education department and provided physical education majors with the opportunity for a competitive sports experience. Equipment and facilities were also provided by the women’s physical education department, while the few monies allocated for travel usually came from student fees. This level of program had support from the medical community who felt women were anatomically and physiologically unsuited for strenuous running and jumping, from the education philosophers who felt that competitive sports were not a desirable part of women’s education, and from society in general where social mores opposed females becoming athletes.

In contrast, men’s athletic programs found a home in departments of athletics. Student fees were augmented by donations and gate receipts. Men were enticed by financial aid based on their athletic talents. The total atmosphere differed from the women’s program. Men were accepted as physically active, competitive beings and those who became exceptional athletes were extolled as heroes by society.

With this scenario, enter Title IX with its decree that women should have the same opportunities to become highly skilled athletes, have varsity sports teams, wear letter sweaters, and represent their institution in regional and national competition. Tradition would not be a valid reason for inaction, but tradition would explain the inaction. The reticence to comply with Title IX has centered around the sensitive areas of finances and administrative authority.

The area of finance is one of significant concern. Money must be found to expand the quality of women’s programs. Over the course of time, the number of intercollegiate sports for men supported by an institution stabilized, and to a great extent was determined by the monies available. Even if universities had an equal number of women’s sports in their intercollegiate program, the increased funding necessary to bring them into compliance was not always obtainable. Unless additional funds were made available, it would mean that monies would have to be distributed more equitably or a curtailment of offerings (usually for men) be considered. Title IX requires equity by program, not necessarily by sport. The need for locker rooms, athletic training areas and conditioning facilities for the women sometimes placed an additional strain on the budget. In most instances, facilities were already present for the men’s teams, and the only compromise necessary required the sharing of existing facilities. The major outcome, therefore, was that the women finally managed to escape from the old, tiny gym that had grown too archaic for men’s sports.

The question of administrative authority had to be faced. For many male athletic directors who have been used to running their own ship it was rather disconcerting to be told they must not only take on more passengers, but also modify their mode of operation. Directors of the women’s program, regardless of their tenure, had administered their program in a different way. This was a result of both their limited finances and their selected goals. University presidents quickly solved the potential problem of a power struggle by making their women’s athletic director responsible to her male counterpart, giving her the title of assistant or associate director. With this title she continued to be responsible for the women’s program, or was assigned a certain area of responsibility in both the men’s and women’s programs.

Unfortunately, all institutions have not entered into the spirit of Title IX, to say nothing of the actual need for compliance. There are institutions, however, in which male and female administrators are cooperating in actions that will make athletics an important part of the lives of all the athletes on their campus…male and female alike.

What has this meant specifically to those women who have experienced the transition? For the female athlete it has been revolutionary. The opportunity to receive financial aid; a coach whose primary responsibility is coaching; facilities that are reserved for times during which her team can practice and compete; uniforms, instead of gym suits; quality equipment and, better yet, enough of it; athletic trainers and sports information directors who take an interest in them, etc., etc., etc.

A different atmosphere and different expectations surround the female coach. Her fellow coaches are not necessarily other women. Expert knowledge of her sport as well as the ability to recruit and work with the highly skilled athlete are two qualities that now are expected of her. The pressures felt by any visible program at institutions of higher education are passed on to her, and these she has added her own desire to be successful.

Life for the female administrator of a women’s athletic program has changed dramatically. Previously there was a friendly give-and-take with “club sponsors and team representatives” who only had to answer to an institutional concern for professional ethics and the student’s desire to participate. Administrative responsibilities now include a highly organized program which must function within a labyrinth of rules and regulations, staff meetings, scheduling of events, and search committees for new personnel. Many women administrators find the challenge of all this change to be exciting. Few, however, enjoy the adversary role cast upon them. They are often expected to battle for budgets, threaten for Title IX compliance, and are generally assumed to be ignorant concerning the needs of football.

Women do not have a priority on change, which has also invaded the lives of men in athletics. Male athletes may feel like they did when they were younger and their little sister followed them to the sandlot. Some male coaches feel women in the profession have yet to “pay their dues”. And male administrators now find themselves responsible for another program which is/was run by women, many of them inexperienced but highly determined to succeed.

Yes, everyone must now function in a different climate. Men may still be King of the Athletic Mountain, but they are not alone on the mountain anymore. Perhaps time will lead people in athletics to discover a new kind of satisfaction in meeting the challenges ahead, together.

The late Dr. Mary Roby, who passed away in January at the age of 85, was Athletic Director for Women and Professor of Physical Education at the University of Arizona. She was one of the first women to serve on the United States Sports Academy’s Board of Trustees, joining Dr. Judith Sweet on the Academy’s board in 1984. Roby was also one of the first women named to the NACDA’s Executive Committee. She was vice president of the Pac-10 Conference and was a founder and board member of the Council of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators. This column first appeared in the March-April 1980 issue of the USSA News.