False Assumptions: Why Title IX is not to Blame for Changes in Men’s Athletics


False Assumptions: Why Title IX is not to Blame for Changes in Men’s Athletics

Angell Wescott
Published by the PIT Journal: 


There are approximately 420,000 student-athletes participating in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Though today nearly half of these athletes are women, the proportion has not always been this uniform. The dramatic increase in women’s participation in athletics can be attributed to the implementation of Title IX in 1972. This is the landmark legislation responsible for protecting women from discrimination in all areas of education. Before the passage of Title IX 40 years ago, women had very few opportunities to participate in athletics at the collegiate level and the few that had these athletic opportunities did not receive the same support as male athletes. Today, women possess many more opportunities to participate in athletics, almost as many as men. However, this dramatic increase of female participation in athletics has led many people to falsely blame Title IX for having a negative impact on men’s athletics. These critics argue that Title IX has required colleges to provide more funding for female athletics, leading to lower budgets for male athletic programs and sometimes their elimination.

The purpose of this paper is to disprove the arguments of those who believe that Title IX negatively impacts men’s athletics and explain how this information is particularly important to lawmakers and those determining how to distribute funds among athletic programs. To accomplish this, I will counter the arguments of these critics by pointing out factors that these critics fail to recognize. These factors include insights on the specific parameters of Title IX and to some of the other potential problems that have led to decreases in male athletic funds. A look at the specifics of Title IX will show how it does not specifically call for any colleges to eliminate or decrease the funding of any male programs. In addition to the actual legislation of Title IX, the distribution of funds among male sports also provides support to the argument that Title IX is not the cause of changes in men’s athletics. Funds are unequally distributed among different programs, which greatly affects many of the smaller teams. The larger programs, such as football and basketball, receive much more funding than the smaller ones, such as wrestling and track and field. Many critics also fail to recognize that the economy has impacted athletics by creating budget deficits for many colleges. These budget deficits are part of what has led to the elimination of many sports. I will use the statistics of the monetary distribution among athletic programs, the specific legislation of Title IX, and describe economic impacts to disprove the arguments of those that criticize Title IX and show why it is not to blame for causing changes in the funding of men’s athletics. In addition, I will explain why this is particularly important to the lawmakers debating the parameters of Title IX and to those who determine how the funds will be distributed among the college athletic programs.

Title IX was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1972 to ensure that women received the same opportunities as men by forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex in all areas of education, which includes all federally funded activities or programs (What is Title IX?). Since males received so many more opportunities than females did at this time, it was designed to “correct imbalances” that existed among the number of opportunities for males and females (Title IX Enacted). The effects of this legislation are apparent in the growth of women’s athletics at the collegiate level. In 1972 there were roughly 30,000 women competing in NCAA athletics while there were nearly 170,000 men participating in sports at the same level. Since the passing of this legislation, the number of female participants in NCAA athletics has drastically increased, growing from merely 30,000 to greater than 150,000 (Title IX Enacted). While this increase in female athletics has been interpreted by some to have a harmful impact on men’s athletics, there are numerous reasons why this is not the case.

One of the problems with the claims made against Title IX is that these opinions are biased. Many of the articles that criticize the influence that Title IX has had on men’s athletic programs come from male athletes who have been directly impacted by the elimination of a sports team. One example of this is the article “Title IX Laws and Intercollegiate Athletics” written by Michael Lancaster. This article criticizes Title IX for the elimination of track and field at Nicholls State University (Lancaster). The problem with this article is that Lancaster himself was on the track and field team that was cut. This creates a bias because Lancaster was directly impacted by the elimination of a sports team, influencing the opinions that he may form. This bias is present in many of the articles that criticize Title IX. Athletes and coaches that have been negatively impacted by the elimination of sports teams are quick to blame Title IX for these changes. They fail to consider many other potential factors that could be contributing to this change.

Several times these affected athletes and coaches have taken their cases to court, only to have the courts find these accusations to be unfounded and unsupported. One example is in the case of National Wrestling Coaches Association vs. United States Department of Education. In 2002, the National Wrestling Coaches Association and several other wrestling groups filed suit against the Unites States Department of Education claiming that the interpretation of Title IX had led to discrimination of many male athletes. The Department of Education countered this argument and filed a motion to dismiss the suit claiming that the reductions could not be traced back to Title IX specifically. The court’s decision supported the Department of Education and dismissed the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s complaint (National Wrestling Coaches Association, et al. v. United States Department of Education). Several other cases involving the elimination of men’s sports due to Title IX have been dismissed from the court as the courts have found that Title IX is not responsible for the losses in men’s athletics. The federal courts have found that rather than requiring schools to cut men’s teams, Title IX allows schools to choose how to structure their athletic programs and as long as men and women are treated equally, colleges can fund whatever programs they choose (Title IX and Men’s Sports: A False Conflict). These court cases provide evidence that the arguments of those who blame Title IX for negatively impacting men’s athletic opportunities are incorrect.  

While it is true that some male athletic teams have been cut since the implementation of Title IX, research shows that Title IX is not to blame for this. Statistics indicate that many of the cuts that have been made occurred in years that the legislation of Title IX was not strictly enforced. For example, the period in which the highest number of wrestling teams was cut since the passage of Title IX is the period between 1982 and 1992. During this period, the Reagan administration did not force all schools to comply with Title IX requirements (Zimbalist 55). This shows that Title IX cannot be blamed for the elimination of these sports and there must be other factors that contributed to the elimination of these sports teams.

A look at the parameters of Title IX provides evidence as to why it cannot be blamed for decreasing opportunities for men. In order for a school to be in compliance with Title IX it must pass one of three tests. The proportion of male athletes to female athletes should be proportional to their enrollments in the school, the school must show a continual expansion of the programs belonging to the “underrepresented sex”, or it must show that the athletic programs that exist are simply accommodating the interests of the “underrepresented sex” (Title IX Myths and Facts). Nowhere in the parameters of Title IX does it state that colleges must provide equal funding for male and female athletics. Therefore, it does not call for any schools to take away men’s programs to pay for women’s programs. It also fails to set any quotas that would require a school to cut any programs. It does not set proportions as to how much money different programs receive and it does not require women’s athletics to receive a certain amount of funding. As long as a school provides equal opportunities for male and female athletes, the school is in compliance with Title IX and the amount of funding each sport receives may differ (Title IX Myths and Facts). Because schools are able to decide how to distribute their money, Title IX cannot be blamed for taking away the funds of smaller male athletic programs. Rather, it is the choice that schools possess in deciding how to spend their money that is a major factor contributing to the changes in men’s athletics.

The way that money is distributed among all of the athletic programs leads to decreased budgets for many of the smaller athletic teams. Football and basketball are considered higher-revenue sports and therefore receive the majority of all the athletic funding. In fact, about 80% of athletic funding among Division I schools goes towards these two programs, leaving only about 20% for the rest of the smaller men’s and all of the women’s programs (Goodale). It is the funding of these sports, rather than funding for Title IX that is contributing to the lower budgets and eliminations of the smaller athletic teams. Some of the wealthiest athletic departments have reduced the budgets of the smaller athletic programs because they are simply choosing to fund the higher-revenue sports of football and basketball rather than the smaller ones (Title IX Myths and Facts). Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation said, “Title IX is not the problem. If it disappeared tomorrow, the practical effect would be that men’s and women’s sports would be cut to fuel the appetites of football and basketball” (Gardner). Based on the statistics, if funding for women’s sports was decreased, the money that was used for these programs would most likely go to the budgets of the football and basketball teams. Smaller men’s programs would continue to be cut and would most likely not benefit from a decrease in women’s athletics.

The athletic spending of Rutgers University provides a good example of how the distribution of funds can affect some of the smaller athletics programs. In 2006, Rutgers University cut the men’s tennis team, a program with a budget of about $175,000. In that same year it can be noted that Rutgers University spent about $175,000 on hotel rooms for football players for home games (Goodale). This shows how the funding of larger programs can take away from the smaller programs. Rutgers University had the funds for a men’s tennis team but instead chose to provide more funding for the football program. Because each university can choose how to distribute their money, many are choosing to spend money on what they consider higher revenue sports.

Rutgers University exemplifies the spending of the majority of the colleges across the country. Data compiled by the NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Divisions I and II Intercollegiate Athletics Programs showed how much money is spent per male athlete among Division I schools. The data concluded that colleges in this division spend about $38,895 per football player and about $78,846 per male basketball player. This was compared to an average of $8,442 that was spent on male athletes participating in every other sport (Marburger and Hagshead-Makar 83). The uneven distribution of funds among athletic programs can be used to explain why so many of the smaller male athletic programs are being cut. Rather than providing more funds for the women’s athletic teams like many claim, schools are choosing to provide more funding for the larger sports of football and basketball.

In addition to the distribution of funds among athletic programs, the economy is another major factor contributing to cuts that are being made in some sports. Several schools including the University of Cincinnati, Stanford University, and the University of Massachusetts have announced budget deficits of millions of dollars (Belson). Like other businesses, athletic departments invest money in things like advancements in facilities and equipment, hoping that this will lead to high profits by increases in ticket sales and sponsors. While this has worked in the past, the economic recession has led to many athletic departments not getting as much money as usual, creating huge budget shortages (Staples). With such large deficits, it is inevitable that universities have to make the decision of which sports to fund and which sports to eliminate. Without enough money to fund all of their programs, most universities are choosing to cut smaller-revenue programs including wrestling, swimming, and gymnastics.  

The University of Maryland accurately depicts the effect that the economy can have on sports as it recently announced that a multi-million dollar budget deficit would lead to the elimination of seven of its athletic programs, some male and some female (Giannotto). This change did not result from any of the parameters of Title IX, but instead resulted from the huge decrease in the budget. The fact that some female athletic programs were being cut in addition to the male programs also disproves the argument that men’s programs are being cut in order to fund women’s programs. The truth is that many men’s and women’s athletics are being cut either because of budget deficits or to provide more funds for football and basketball.

In addition to evidence pointing to other factors as the causes for changes in men’s athletics, there are a few statistics that prove the arguments made against Title IX are unfounded. Statistics show the number of opportunities for males to participate in college athletics has actually increased since the passing of Title IX in 1972. There are currently about 38,000 more male college athletes than there were when Title IX was passed in 1972 (Ali cites Title IX: 40 years of transforming women's lives). Statistics also show that women’s athletics continue to significantly lag behind men’s athletics programs. While women constitute 51% of students at Division I-FBS schools, they only receive about 45% of the athletic opportunities among these schools (Title IX and Athletics). In addition to receiving many more athletic opportunities than women, men also receive the majority of the funding. Based on the NCAA Gender Equity Report, 72% of the total athletic budget of Division I-FBS schools is spent on male athletes. Males also receive about 69% of the recruiting money and 58% of the scholarship money (Title IX and Men’s Sport: A False Conflict). 

Debate among lawmakers over the specifics of Title IX has stemmed from arguments of those who believe that Title IX has negatively impacted some men’s athletic programs. Some propose to change the laws in order to limit the influence it has over men’s athletics while some argue that the laws should remain the same. This debate makes the arguments and statistics presented in this paper particularly important to lawmakers who are debating what the laws of Title IX should be. While it is true that Title IX has led to increases in women’s athletics, statistics indicate these increases have not led to decreases in male athletes. In fact, women still do not have as many opportunities as males and do not receive nearly as much funding. The fact that opportunities for female athletes have grown but still lag behind the number of opportunities that males receive should be a major factor in the decision of what the laws should be. This portrays the influence that Title IX has had in creating so many more opportunities for women, showing why lawmakers should not be persuaded to eliminate Title IX as this would hinder the progress that women have made in obtaining equal opportunities. If lawmakers were to change the legislation of Title IX, the most probable effect would be that the number of women’s athletic opportunities would be severely reduced as they were in the past.

In addition to lawmakers, those who determine how the athletic budgets are distributed should also be interested in the arguments and statistics in this article. While many argue that less money should be spent on women’s athletics in order to prevent the reduction of some men’s athletics program, the statistics compiled support that reduction of women’s funding would not benefit smaller men’s programs. This fact needs to be considered by those who determine how to distribute the money among athletic programs. These people should not make cuts to the budgets of women’s athletic programs, but should look to other programs when deciding where the cuts need to be made. Research shows that there are several other factors contributing to the reduced budgets of some male athletic programs, instead of reducing the budgets of women’s programs, they should look to the budgets of the football and basketball programs. Research shows that the money of the football and basketball programs is spent unnecessarily, on many nonessentials such as hotel rooms. Rather than spending money on these excessive things, the money could go towards the smaller programs that have reduced budgets. Those that criticize Title IX for reducing the budgets of the smaller sports teams should turn their attention to the football and basketball programs instead of assuming that it is the women’s programs that are leading to these reductions.

Though many people argue that Title IX has caused a reduction in the funding of smaller sports, thus leading to fewer opportunities for men to participate in athletics, this is not the case. Statistics show that the number of men’s athletic opportunities has actually increased since the passage of Title IX. Therefore, while it is true that women are being provided with many more opportunities than they have had in the past, men are getting more opportunities as well. And though some universities are choosing to eliminate some men’s programs, it is not Title IX that motivates the cuts. The specific legislation of Title IX, as well as the consideration of other factors that contribute to elimination of sports, provide evidence that Title IX is not what is causing men’s athletic programs to be affected. The distribution of funds among programs and the influence of the economy are some of the factors that should be considered. The truth behind Title IX is that it has created thousands more opportunities for women to participate in sports at the collegiate level. While many argue that Title IX has negatively impacted some men’s athletic programs, statistics prove that this is not the case. It is important for lawmakers and athletic directors to keep these statistics in mind when determining the specific legislation of Title IX and determining how to distribute funds among athletic programs. Legislators need to know that Title IX has not negatively influenced men’s athletics, but has, however, had a great impact on women’s athletics.



Works Cited

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Belson, Ken. “Universities Cutting Teams as They Trim Their Budgets.” The New York Times. 4 May 2009. Web. 5 Oct 2012.

Cooky, Cheryl, and Lavoi, Nicole M. “Playing but Losing: Women’s Sports after Title IX.” Contexts 11.1 (2012): 42-46. Web.

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Giannotto, Mark. “Maryland cuts seven sports on ‘sad day’ in College Park.” WP Sports. The Washing Post. 2 July 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Goodale, Gloria. “40 years later, Title IX is still fighting perception it hurt men’s sports.”

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Staples, Andy. “How the economy is affecting college athletic departments.” Sports Illustrated. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company. 28 Oct. 2008. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

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About the Author(s)
Angell Wescott