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WASHINGTON - "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."
No mention of sports anywhere in there, right? Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed with the intention of making sure the Civil Rights Act was expanded to eliminate legal discrimination based on gender as well as race. Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink introduced the bill as a result of difficulties she faced in obtaining her undergraduate degrees at Hawaii and Nebraska. It wasn't intended that the bill would be most closely associated with sports, but that has become the case.
Almost as soon as the legislation was passed, fans of college and high school athletics recognized the significance. Even though most athletic programs do not receive Federal funding assistance, all programs at any institution are covered. People immediately saw that men's sports would be in trouble; because later rulings determined that opportunities must be provided not equally, but proportionally based on gender, athletic programs now found themselves having to find more scholarships for women's sports. The proportional factor is key, as most colleges in the nation have more women than men, but most schools at the time spent far more money on men's athletic programs than on women's.
Title IX became a boon for women's sports; it could be argued that it was the single most important legislation for female athletes in the nation's history. Since the law passed, female participation in high school sports has increased nine-fold, while there has been a 450 percent increase in female college athletes. The NCAA had never held a single women's championship tournament before Title IX had passed; it took nearly a decade, but they became common in most sports by 1983. There are now more than 9,000 women's college sports teams in the country, many of them thanks to the influence of Title IX.
At the same time, though, opponents of Title IX say it has helped limit athletic opportunities. Because of the female-to-male ratio at most schools, schools often have to cut men's sports in order to become compliant; if the school sponsors a football team, the cuts have often been even more pronounced. Wrestling has been especially hard hit, as colleges have been dropping that sport despite increased interest at the high school level. Cross-country and indoor track have both been dropped by more than 180 universities since Title IX went into effect, with golf, tennis, and swimming also hard hit.
Opponents point to those numbers when saying Title IX is actually practicing reverse discrimination, that when schools cut men's sports, they are unfairly discriminating against athletes based on gender. Other opponents say that since women's sports have become well established around the country, perhaps Title IX no longer needs to hold such weight.
In any case, many female college athletes have Title IX to thank for their participation. It's entirely possible, or even probable, that they wouldn't be on the field at all if it wasn't for that act.