A federal law known as Title IX requires educational institutions that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunities to female students. These include equal opportunities in sports. Most colleges and universities, including private universities as well as state universities, receive federal funds and thus must comply with Title IX. By contrast, relatively few K-12 schools receive federal funds, so Title IX compliance is generally not an issue for them.
If an educational institution fails to comply with Title IX, it can lose its federal funding. However, no school has lost its federal funding despite pervasive non-compliance with Title IX across athletic departments at American colleges and universities. The Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Education, which supervises Title IX, has always found that an institution not technically in compliance with Title IX is conditionally in compliance if they solve issues causing the non-compliance.
"Reverse Compliance" With Title IX
Some athletic departments have sought to comply with Title IX by downgrading opportunities for male athletes so that an equal, lower standard applies to both genders. This violates the spirit of Title IX, which is designed to bring opportunities for female athletes up to the standard for male athletes.
Equal Opportunities in College Sports Under Title IX
Under Title IX, an educational institution must provide male and female athletes with equal access to financial aid. This means that funds allocated to athletic scholarships must be proportionate to the participation of male and female athletes. In other words, if a university allocates $500,000 to athletic scholarships, and 45 percent of its athletes are female, it must allocate $225,000 of that amount to female athletes. Outside the financial aid context, an institution does not need to spend the same amount of funds on male and female athletes.
In addition, a university must treat female athletes similarly to male athletes and provide them with comparable benefits and access to services. Among other things, these include:
Athletic equipment and supplies
Facilities for training and competition
Medical services and facilities
Coaching and tutoring
Scheduling of practices and games
Finally, an institution must effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of female and male students regarding participation in athletics. Federal law provides objective and subjective standards for meeting this requirement.
The Participation Requirement Under Title IX
There are three main ways in which a college or university can meet the Title IX participation requirement. The basic approach involves providing individual participation slots for female and male athletes that are proportionate to the composition of the student body. For example, if 53 percent of the students at a college are women, the athletic department complies with Title IX if 53 percent of the individual athlete participation slots are made available to female athletes.
Proportionate Participation Does Not Involve Teams
The participation requirement applies only at the individual level. In the example above, a university does not need to ensure that 53 percent of its teams are women’s teams to comply with Title IX.
If a university cannot meet the basic participation standard, it still can comply with Title IX if it has consistently expanded opportunities for female athletes over time, or if it can prove that it has fully met the athletic interests and abilities of its female students. A university cannot excuse itself from compliance, though, by arguing that women as a gender are less interested in sports than men. In addition, a university cannot justify unequal treatment on economic grounds, such as claiming that men’s sports receive more revenue than women’s sports.
Enforcing Compliance With Title IX
Each educational institution that receives federal funds must have a Title IX Compliance Coordinator. Determining compliance involves comparing the entire program for male athletes to the entire program for female athletes, rather than specific comparisons between men’s and women’s teams in the same sport. Therefore, a university does not need to form a women’s team for each sport in which it forms a men’s team, and vice versa.
Anyone can file a complaint for a violation of Title IX with the Office for Civil Rights. You can report a violation even if you were not the victim of the violation, and you can keep your identity confidential. The Office for Civil Rights must investigate complaints within a certain time, but it has struggled to fully enforce Title IX. As an alternative, a victim of a Title IX violation can file a lawsuit in court. This strategy has proved more effective in enforcing the rights of female athletes.