How Title IX Works

Title IX Controversies
Colleges and universities have blamed cuts in budgets on Title IX, but those cuts are likely related more to the huge expenses of NCAA football and basketball teams. Wesley Hitt/Contributor/Getty Images

From the beginning, Title IX had its share of opponents. In 1975, a congressman sought to amend Title IX to allow the separation of boys and girls during gym class. Knowing well that separation can all too easily reinforce inequality, Congresswoman Mink and her colleagues fought off the change. It was the first of many battles to save the law. Over the years, more than 20 attempts have been made to change or eliminate Title IX [source: Chan].

In the decades since it was signed into law, the budgets for some traditional male college sports like wrestling, gymnastics, baseball and track have been severely cut, or the programs have been abolished altogether. Seeking a scapegoat for this trend, the ire of some coaches, athletes and fans has focused on Title IX. The argument goes like this: Title IX dictates that colleges must spend money on women's sports in proportion to student enrollment rather than team participation. That means that even though a smaller percentage of women participate in college sports than women, smaller men's sports have gotten shortchanged [source: Thomas].

While colleges and universities frequently cite the need to comply with Title IX as the reason behind the cuts in funding, some sceptics suspect they're using the law as cover for unpopular decisions [source: Fagan]. Those decisions have more to do with the mushrooming expense of maintaining NCAA football and basketball teams than equity requirements in sports.

In reality, the statistics show that male participation in college sports has grown even faster than female participation in the post Title IX era [source: Fagan]. The argument that schools must spend equal amounts of money on women's sports is specious. Title IX has no such requirement and most colleges spend considerably more on men's sports. Title IX simply requires that schools not discriminate against girls' and women's sports. If a women's hockey team has substandard equipment and facilities compared to the men's team — that's discrimination and it's illegal under Title IX. This basic idea of fairness could be the reason why polls demonstrate that Title IX is overwhelmingly popular with the general public [source: Fagan].

But Title IX's popularity has not protected it from controversy. On the contrary, the law remains a socio-political lightning rod in the culture wars. As mentioned earlier, Title IX first became known for its application to athletics, but since the late 1990s, it has become increasingly relevant to sexual politics.