In the sports world, Title IX brings about various sets of emotions. There are those who believe the 1972 legislation – which bars discrimination based on sex at institutions receiving federal funding – has greatly increased the number of opportunities for female athletes. Others say the regulation has mostly decreased the number of opportunities for males, because schools have often dropped men’s sports to achieve equality.
It is instructive to look at the experience of one college that doesn’t have to abide by Title IX’s mandates. Grove City College, a private college in northwest Pennsylvania, does not accept federal funding therefore is exempt from federal regulations. Nevertheless, the school provides ample opportunities for men and women to compete in NCAA Division III level sports.
The story begins with the decision of Grove City’s administration to challenge the applicability of Title IX and its burdensome reporting requirements in the early 1980s. When the school failed to supply the documents demanded by the Department of Education, the DOE filed suit to stop Grove City students from receiving federal financial aid (Basic Education Opportunity Grants).
By 1984, Grove City College v. Bell, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Court decided the case, it ruled that just because one of its students receives federal financial aid does not mean the entire college is subject to Title IX regulations. That decision did not sit well with key members of Congress, who didn’t want their control over colleges and universities reduced. Congress passed legislation, over President Reagan’s veto, to require Title IX compliance in all departments regardless of what purpose the federal funding serves.
Instead of giving up the college’s autonomy, Grove City opted to end all financial ties to the federal government. The school established its own financial aid program for needy students so they wouldn’t have to take federal funds and thus subject the school to federal regulations.
If you listen to the rhetoric of some women’s rights advocates, the growth of women’s sports on a campus would be impossible without Title IX. Gone, they would have you believe, would be the women’s basketball, track, and soccer programs. But since cutting its ties to the federal government, Grove City College has not only grown and prospered academically, but school officials have also created abundant opportunities for women without eliminating opportunities for men.
Grove City currently offers ten sports programs each for men and women, without federal paperwork and mandates. That casts doubt on the idea that coercion is necessary in college sports.
You won’t hear about Grove City from those who want to overturn a recent “Clarification” by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The Clarification would permit schools to show that they are in compliance with Title IX by doing a survey of students to see what percentage of men and women are interested in participating in a new collegiate sport.
All of this is much ado about nothing. Female students are not complaining about the opportunities for women to play sports. According to one athletics director in North Carolina, there have been no complaints about the number of opportunities for women made by women on his campus. Complaints about sports inequality invariably come from outsiders who are pushing their own agendas.
The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education claims that Title IX encourages “women’s interest in sports and eliminate stereotypes that discourage them from participating.” Very few women students, however, feel that they are discouraged from participating in college sports.
Women don’t need Title IX in order to have opportunities or the desire to play sports. That desire comes from wanting to have fun and compete in sports, not from an intrusive government regulation. Title IX does not inspire women to get up and play soccer, softball or basketball. As a sports writer, I never interviewed a female athlete who credited Title IX with her desire to play sports. They praised their family, friends, and coaches, but not this federal regulation.
There will always be a place for a Mia Hamm or Diana Taurasi to compete athletically in college. As Grove City College proves, you don’t need Title IX or any government regulation for that to happen.
Shannon Blosser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.