Updated Jun 23, 2022 - Sports

How 50 years of Title IX have changed American sports

A basketball player with "title ix" on their jersey

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that barred sex discrimination in education and paved the way for a decadeslong women's sports boom, turns 50 today.

Why it matters: Before Title IX, 294,000 girls were participating in high school sports nationwide and just 15% of NCAA athletes were women. Today, those numbers are roughly 3.4 million and 44%, respectively.

  • That profound shift has contributed to the dominance of U.S. women at the Olympics: In Tokyo, American women would have finished fourth in the medal standings (66) if they were a country.
  • Women's soccer has been one of Title IX's biggest success stories, with participation growth directly fueling the USWNT's rise and altering the landscape of the sport.

What Title IX says: "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."

Yes, but: Advocates argue that there is still significant progress to be made, especially when it comes to hiring more female coaches and increasing budgets. There are also compliance concerns:

  • A report from the Women's Sports Foundation found that 86% of colleges are offering a disproportionate number of athletic opportunities to men compared to their enrollment.
  • Plus, dozens of schools are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to count male practice players as female participants when reporting their numbers to the Department of Education.

What's next: A half-century after Title IX empowered female athletes, they're now among the big winners in the new NIL era, which represents another revolutionary leap forward.

  • By allowing female athletes to monetize their audiences outside of the still male-dominated college sports ecosystem, NIL regulations have already transformed athletics in ways Title IX couldn't.
  • Of note: Some warn that NIL and Title IX are on a collision course. "If the university arranges or offers deals for men and not women, or vice versa, it has trouble," two attorneys wrote for Sportico (subscription).

The bottom line: Despite its impact, 87% of American adults say they've heard little to nothing about Title IX, per a recent survey. Hopefully, a 50th birthday celebration brings the attention this historic law deserves.

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