40 Years After Title IX, the Playing Field Still Isn't Level 40 Years After Title IX, the Playing Field Still Isn't Level
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40 Years After Title IX, the Playing Field Still Isn't Level

by Megan Greenwell

May 31, 2012

This should be a happy month for female athletes and their supporters. A slew of events will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that banned gender discrimination in education (including sports). Some might have been too busy planning festivities to notice a quiet business decision that makes clear just how much further women's sports have to go.

It's true that colleges across the country have killed off men's sports teams in the Title IX era, and that in all but five sports the women's teams are allotted more scholarships than men (College soccer teams have 14 scholarships for women per school, as opposed to 9.9 for men). But to blame that imbalance on Title IX, as many have, is misguided. Rowing, the sport with the most scholarship opportunities for women, offers 20 per year at each college. Football offers men a whopping 85 per school. Title IX didn't cause colleges to cut men's teams in other sports—the NCAA's desire to support King Football did. And men still make up nearly 70 percent of college athletes, offering further evidence that Title IX is hardly the bogeyman conservative "men's rights" advocates believe it to be.

Not only that, Title IX deals exclusively with institutions receiving federal funds, which gives it no way to help create anything close to equality in the professional world. Those 14 scholarships per school are nice for women's soccer players, but they don't get those players any closer to making a living. Equality runs out as soon as players receive their diplomas.

Commissioners of men's leagues have a responsibility to step up and support women's teams when they can afford to, as David Stern has done for the WNBA. That wasn't yet an option in soccer's case because Major League Soccer, the men's league, has major financial challenges of its own, as U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made clear in his remarks on the demise of the WPS. The MLS is inching toward profitability, and as soon as it's feasible the league's administrators must make a point of supporting the women's game.

But fans have a responsibility, too. Supporting Title IX's ideals requires supporting women's sports at all levels. Too many soccer fans were content to celebrate Brandi Chastain's and Hope Solo's accomplishments on the international stage but not at home. Too many basketball fans condemn the women's game as "boring" without ever having attended a game. True gender equality in pro sports may be just as unattainable as it is in colleges. But 40 years after Title IX, we all have the power to continue the hard work of leveling the playing field.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user stevendepolo

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40 Years After Title IX, the Playing Field Still Isn't Level