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This Day In Sports: Title IX – a seminal moment for women’s athletics

1972: The women’s sports world changes forever with the signing of Title IX legislation—from participation, to teams and leagues, to officials on the biggest stages.
Credit: Mark Humphrey/AP Photo
Down judge Sarah Thomas, the first female to officiate a Super Bowl, is shown before the Kansas City Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Florida.

BOISE, Idaho — This Day In Sports…June 23, 1972, 50 years ago today:

Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, is signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not prohibit sex discrimination against people at educational institutions — Title IX was intended to seal that gap. Title IX’s most prominent applications have come in the world of college athletics, requiring schools to offer an equal number of athletic scholarships to men and women, based on overall student enrollment (although, interestingly enough, there was no specific mention of sports in the new law).

In 1972, only two percent of school athletic budgets were devoted to women, and athletic scholarships for women were almost nonexistent. The number has now indeed risen to almost 50 percent of the athletic scholarship dollars at Division I schools. Also, before Title IX, fewer than 32,000 women participated in collegiate athletics and fewer than 300,000 girls were in high school athletics. Fifty years later, more than 200,000 women are playing college sports and more than 3 million girls play high school sports.

In order to meet Title IX requirements, schools must pass at least one of the “three prongs” of the law. “Proportionality” addresses the aforementioned balance of men’s and women’s participation in sports versus the institution’s enrollment numbers. “Expansion” allows schools to demonstrate that they are working to expand the number of programs for one gender if it is found to be underserved. And “Accommodating Interest” permits schools to show through research that their current athletic offerings are meeting the expressed interests of their students.

One big Title IX issue remaining is that of transgender athletes. The Obama administration issued a directive that — while not part of the original statute — transgender athletes are protected from sex discrimination by Title IX. The Trump administration rolled back that guidance beginning in 2017. Furthermore, of course, the 2021 Idaho Legislature passed the “Fairness In Women’s Sports Act,” which prohibits transgender women and girls from kindergarten through college from competing on teams that align with their gender identity. It’s being challenged in a federal lawsuit. Stay tuned.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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