Title IX: My right to play

The Law: Just What Is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in any school receiving federal funds. The text of the law states:

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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

All public schools, almost all private colleges, and some private primary and secondary schools are covered under Title IX because they receive federal tax dollars. Although Title IX prohibits gender discrimination of any kind, it is best known for its role in expanding athletic programs for young women and girls.

As applied to athletic programs, Title IX requires schools to:

  • Offer male and female students nondiscriminatory opportunities to play sports;
  • Treat both male and female student athletes fairly, offering female athletes the same treatment and benefits offered male athletes; and
  • Award college athletic scholarship money in proportion to the number of female and male athletes at the school.

A Note on Funding

The budgets for female and male teams do not have to be equal: sport-specific cost differences are allowable (for example, boys’ football uniforms are more expensive than girls’ volleyball uniforms). But, benefits must be equal – the football uniforms may not be new every year and top quality while the volleyball uniforms are several years old and made of shoddy materials.

Where benefits are not equal, a school may not use the excuse that it does not have enough money to provide better equipment, supplies, facilities, etc. for female teams. If the boys’ athletic program receives greater benefits but the school has limited funds, the school has only three choices to comply with Title IX:

  • Increase the benefits for girls;
  • Decrease the benefits for boys; or
  • Do some of both.

Schools often raise money for athletics through booster clubs supported by parents and/or alumni. If the school raises money for boys’ teams through booster clubs, the school is still responsible for making sure that girls’ teams receive equal benefits. A school may not use booster club funding as an excuse for providing greater benefits to boys than to girls. If booster club funds disproportionately benefit boys’ teams, the school could:

  • Ensure that booster club money goes to a general athletic fund for all teams;
  • Refuse the donation, unless the donors agree to provide equivalent benefits to girls’ teams; or
  • Reallocate monies from the general athletic fund to girls’ teams that do not receive booster club support.

The bottom line is that the school is responsible for Title IX compliance.

Example: If a school holds post-season banquets for only the boys’ football and basketball programs (claiming that this is allowable because they were gifts from the booster clubs), but no girls’ teams receive post-season banquets, this is a violation of Title IX. The school must ensure that the booster club funds do not result in discrepancies in benefits provided for the boys’ and girls’ teams.

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