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Title IX: A brave new world for women in sports

female.sports June 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:13 a.m. EDT (1513 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The landscape of sports changed in 1972 -- and not because Cincinnati's Big Red Machine was dominating baseball or the Dallas Cowboys won their first Super Bowl.

Twenty-five years ago this month, Congress passed and then-President Richard Nixon signed Title IX -- a landmark civil rights law barring gender discrimination in education. The law applied to all aspects of education in schools that receive federal aid, but it has become best known for expanding athletic opportunities for women.

A sporting revolution was born.

President Clinton plans to participate in a ceremony Tuesday marking that anniversary and the strides made by women's sports since schools were required to comply with the law in 1978. Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee and former astronaut Sally Ride will join the president.

Football vs. women's sports

Supporters got an early anniversary gift in April, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Title IX from Brown University. Brown officials had tried cut the school's budget by eliminating two men's and two women's sports teams -- at a savings of $16,000 for the men and $62,000 for the women. The courts said no fair.

Opponents of the law argue that men's sports suffer when women's sports get more attention. The cry has been loudest from staunch gridiron schools, prompting some school administrators to muse that there are three genders in college sports -- male, female, and football.

"Some schools have chosen to drop football," said Naval Academy athletic director Jack Lengyel. "Some will be dropping other sports, capping other sports."

A win-win situation

But some schools have made Title IX work without penalizing their other programs. A few years ago, the University of Maryland's athletic program was found to be out of compliance with the law. The school has come a long way.

"We created new scholarship opportunities. We created new participation by adding new sports," said athletic director Deborah Yow. "We have hired marketing professionals to market our women's sporting events."

Money is the key to implementing Title IX, and Maryland has increased its revenues to pay for the expanded women's programs without cutting those for men. The school's lacrosse team is a now-legendary national champion, and its women's basketball team has set an Atlantic Coast Conference attendance record.

"We heard that people were trading North Carolina men's tickets to get in, and I said 'Wow! We have arrived!'" said coach Chris Weller, who played for the Lady Terps in the days before Title IX.


An explosion of female athletes

A recent survey showed that women's college teams had risen from 5.6 teams per school in 1977 to 7.5 in 1996, and the number of women college athletes has nearly quadrupled.

In high school, the changes have been even more dramatic -- the number of female athletes has jumped from 294,000 in 1971 to 2.4 million in 1995.

Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, said those younger female athletes are part of the reason the cries against Title IX are getting fainter.

"Young parents, that first generation of moms and dads who grew up believing their daughters could be athletes, are a vast force for change," she told Time magazine.

That influence, and the impact of Title IX, is showing. This year, not one but two women's professional basketball leagues launched full seasons.

But the act's supporters know more work is needed, and Clinton is expected to take steps in that direction Tuesday when he issues an order barring gender discrimination in federally run schools for Native Americans and the military.

Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.


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