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Equal Opportunities to Compete

Although Title IX does not require “quotas” of female athletes, Title IX does require that girls have nondiscriminatory opportunities to play sports. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the federal government agency responsible for enforcing Title IX, established a “three part test” to determine whether schools are in compliance with the “equal opportunities” requirement of the law. Schools comply with Title IX by meeting any one of the three parts of the test:

Substantial Proportionality: A school complies with this prong of the test if the numbers of male and female athletes are substantially proportionate to the percentages of males and females enrolled at the school.

Example: If a high school’s enrollment is 50% girls and 50% boys, but 57% of the school’s athletes are boys and only 43% are girls, the school would not be in compliance with this part of the test. There is no set ratio that constitutes “substantially proportionate” or that, when not met, results in a Title IX violation.24 However, as long as the percentages of athletes are very close to the proportional enrollment, the school is probably in compliance.

History and Continuing Practice of Expansion: If the ratio of male to female athletes is not substantially proportionate, a school may still comply with the law if it has a history and continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for females, the historically underrepresented sex.

Example: If a school has consistently and continuously added opportunities for girls since the passage of Title IX (such as adding new girls’ teams or increasing spots on existing teams), it may be in compliance with this aspect of the law. However, simply adding one or two girls’ teams in the past thirty-five years would certainly not count as a history and continuing practice of expansion.

Fully and Effectively Accommodating Interests: Finally, a school complies with the “equal opportunities” component of Title IX by fully and effectively meeting female students’ interests and abilities in sports. To determine if it is meeting all of the interest in girls’ sports, a school should:

  • Evaluate girls’ requests to add teams
  • Examine female student participation rates in club or intramural sports
  • Analyze girls’ participation in physical education classes that teach particular sports
  • Conduct periodic student surveys to determine the interest levels in all sports for females and males
  • Assess sports played by girls at nearby schools, feeder schools for universities, and local recreational athletic leagues

If these factors reveal that girls have an interest in sports that is not being met, the school should expand its sports program.

Example: If a high school has a girls’ club field hockey team with enough players to field a varsity team to compete against other varsity teams in the area, but the school refuses to honor the girls’ request to be given varsity status, the school is not fully and effectively accommodating the female athletes’ interests and abilities. Similarly, if the school fields three teams for boys’ baseball (varsity, junior varsity, frosh-soph), it must offer three teams for girls’ softball, provided there is a sufficient number of interested girls.

Equal Levels of Competition

This component applies primarily to colleges and universities, and requires that they provide equal levels of competition for male and female teams. There are two ways to comply with this aspect of Title IX:25

  • Provide equivalently advanced competition opportunities to a proportionate number of male and female athletes; or
  • Demonstrate a history and continuing practice of upgrading the competitive opportunities available to female athletes.

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