Title IX: Leveling the playing field

Next month marks 35 years after Title IX Mandated Equity

Tiff Clements

Ashley Schellhas stretched across a seat in the back of an Econoline van in mid-April to catch a nap before the University tennis team’s next stop.

As the graduate student’s eyelids drooped shut, she clutched her teddy bear, Goldy, and venomously muttered her plans to annihilate the next day’s opponent at Northwestern University.

“I’m going to dream of beating Georgia Rose,” she said.

Next month marks the 35th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a federal law most often used to call for gender equity in athletics.

While the University has added three women’s teams in the past 20 years and now supports nearly 500 female student-athletes, some elements of the athletic experience, like sleepy road trips and fiery competition, continue.

However, according to federal reports and University officials, complete equity in sports still eludes female athletes.

The law

The simple 37-word statute, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, states that any educational program or activity receiving federal funding can’t discriminate on the basis of gender.

Title ix:

“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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Rayla Allison, Title IX attorney and professor in the School of Kinesiology, said the law isn’t exclusively connected to sports.

“You’ll not find anywhere in the actual statute where it mentions athletics,” she said. “After it was passed, it became apparent that when it said any program in educational institutions, that meant athletic programs.”

The commonly used three-prong test to determine Title IX compliance emerged in 1979.

An educational institution receiving federal funding must meet at least one of the three elements of the test. Schools have to either show the percentage of male and female athletes is the same as male and female students on campus, show it is continually expanding opportunities for the underrepresented gender and/or prove that it is meeting the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender.

Title IX today

In 2006, under the leadership of Athletics Director Joel Maturi, the University came into compliance with one of the three standards of testing for the first time in at least 10 years.

Reports filed with the U.S. Department of Postsecondary Education show the University’s participation percentages are proportional as of 2006.

According to the report, 53 percent of undergraduate students are female and the percentage of female student-athletes matches that.

The other two tests can be difficult to substantiate.

The law doesn’t require equal funding. Men’s programs received 70 percent of the department’s recruiting budget from 1996 to 2005, and coaches of women’s sports earned an average of $140,000 less than their male counterparts during the same time period. However, women’s programs lost an average of $1.8 million in this time period, while men’s programs averaged a profit of $12.3 million.

Maturi said there is room for improvement in the University’s Title IX compliance.

“Are we in compliance with Title IX? Yes and no,” he said. “Title IX says that you’re supposed to have your scholarships within 1 percent of your participation, which means at least 52 percent of our scholarships are supposed to go to women. It’s impossible for us.”

Maturi said football scholarships, which account for 20 percent of all aid given to the department’s 25 teams, prohibit balancing the scholarship scale.

He said it can be challenging to make all facets of his program equitable, especially when only three of the 25 teams earn a profit.

“Quite frankly, some of the money we spend marketing sports is a waste because we don’t get the return back,” Maturi said. “So you’d like to take some of that money and spend it on more of your revenue-generating sports and hope that the return will be greater for everybody’s sake.”

Contemporary problems

A common complaint surrounding the law is that men must give up resources for women to gain gender equity, said interim campus Title IX coordinator Carolyn Chalmers.

“One of the issues for Title IX is the backlash created when men feel that athletics is a fixed pie and for women to get more, men must get less,” she said.

Gopher wrestling coach J Robinson is a critic of quota systems that often emerge at institutions because of the law.

“We’re mandating that women are going to be just as interested men,” he said. “Women have a tendency to want to do different things than men.”

Robinson said he thinks it would be better to provide programs and opportunities to men and women based upon their interest in a sport, rather than the fixed goal of a 50-50 division of resources.

“You base it on the market, you base it on interest,” he said. “I’m not against Title IX. But the way that it’s enforced has been hijacked by radical feminists.”

Recent progress

The University continued to expand its women’s programs and facilities in recent years, despite concerns that it was a detriment to current men’s athletics.

The athletics department added a women’s rowing team in 2000.

With more than 50 athletes on its roster, rowing team captain Cheryl Wick said she can understand why people think the team was added to balance participation numbers.

But despite such concerns, the graduate student said she always received the same treatment from administrators as male student-athletes.

Moreover, Wick applauds the University for the resources it offers her team.

Wick, who rowed for a year at the University of St. Thomas, said Division I status gives athletes greater opportunities and luxuries.

“It was crazy, because the year before I had gone to all the same fall races and we’d sleep on racquetball courts,” she said.

The University’s rowing team opened the doors to a new $4.6 million boathouse this spring, after eight years of planning. The facility officially opens Friday.

Off the field, on the road

Sports management senior and basketball player Kelly Roysland likens the time commitments of a student-athlete at the University to that of a full-time job.

She said people often think athletes get by easy with a free education, monthly checks and easy classes.

“You’re being demanded of more than 40 hours a week with games and practices and lifting and film sessions; it is like a full-time job,” Roysland said.

Despite considerable time commitments, student-athletes find time for the important things in life.

Wick, Jenna Buskohl and their roommates are glued to their televisions Thursday nights at 8 p.m. watching “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Many Saturday mornings, Wick and Buskohl find themselves awake at sunrise, preparing for a regatta.

The two share a house in the Southeast Como neighborhood with three other roommates. Wick said she appreciates living with a teammate.

“It’s convenient,” she said. “It’s hard to get up early and it’s nice to have somebody to get up with you.”

In addition to early mornings, Wick and Buskohl spend many weekends together, traveling with their team.

University women’s athletic teams will travel more than 170,000 miles this year. That means between vans, busses and airplanes, the student-athletes could circle the globe nearly seven times.

Women’s volunteer assistant tennis coach Zach Remis said apart from the frequent bathroom breaks, traveling with women isn’t all that different from road trips he took while working with men’s teams.

“We can only make it about an hour and a half without stopping,” he said.

Senior tennis player Ida Malmberg said she enjoys time on the road with her team, but hasn’t had much of a chance to enjoy the destinations.

“We’ve been to a lot of great places, but all we’ve gotten to see are the tennis court and the hotels,” she said.

Malmberg said spending all week in the classroom and all weekend on the road can quickly become tedious.

“It gets to a point in the season where it’s wearing on you,” she said.

Battling opponents, not establishment

Mary Jo Kane, director of the University’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, said the social impact of the law has been tremendous.

“I think that Title IX is one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation in the history of the country,” she said. “In one generation you go from girls hoping there is a team to girls hoping they make the team.”

Still, swimming coach Terry Nieszner worries today’s student-athletes could lose sight of the victories won by the previous generation.

Neiszner, who swam for the University in the 1970s, experienced the impact of the law on female athletes firsthand.

In 1974, she qualified for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Penn State.

The intercollegiate program was in its infancy without support from an athletics department, so the then first-year student and her teammates had to raise the money for her travel to the East Coast.

“I think at that time nobody had ever gone to nationals so there probably wasn’t a budget for it,” she said.

Neiszner’s former coach Jean Freeman said she remembers using a number of techniques to raise the airfare for the swimmer.

“We did bake sales, we sold balloons at football games, we sold T-shirts and hats that said ‘God Bless Title IX;’ we did all sorts of things,” she said.

Neiszner said she hopes current female athletes appreciate their athletic heritage.

“I think some of this age group of student-athletes don’t realize because this is all they’ve ever known. You just hope you realize what you’ve got.”

Separate, equal?

The University created the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics Department in 1975, laying the groundwork to support female student-athletes on campus.

The separate departments meant women in sports had strong advocates devoted to their interests, said former women’s swimming coach Jean Freeman.

“The sign of the times was not equity, so if we would have been coed it would not have been that way,” she said. “At least when we had separate departments we knew an athletics director that woke up every day with what’s best for women on her mind.”

Freeman said the difference in funding was quite obvious. She said she did a report in the late ’70s showing that the women’s athletic department budget was as much as the football team spent on athletic tape.

During the department’s 27 years of independence from men’s athletics, female athletes, coaches and administrators made tremendous strides, which opened opportunities and drew crowds.

Many point to the leadership of former women’s athletic director Chris Voelz as the catalyst for progress.

Voelz helmed the department from 1988 to 2002 and was the last person to hold the post when the athletic departments merged.

During her time at Minnesota she added three women’s sports – ice hockey, soccer and rowing – and new female facilities for softball, tennis, soccer and hockey.

The separate departments often had difficulty working together, Voelz said.

“There was much debate with the men’s department Ö with the exception of maybe one athletics director along the way,” she said. “They would literally take issue with Title IX and fight it.”

Voelz said she is proud of her legacy as an advocate for female student-athletes.

“It was really an exciting flourishing time amidst some cantankerous opposition,” she said. “That didn’t keep us back from really setting a benchmark for the nation.”

Merger

Athletics Director Joel Maturi was hired in July of 2002 to manage the melded departments.

He said joining the separate departments was difficult at times.

“I think we had two very successful but two significantly different departments,” he said. “I think when things didn’t go well they had a tendency to blame each other rather than saying, ‘It’s a problem, let’s solve it.’ “

Wrestling coach J Robinson, a sometimes vocal opponent to Title IX’s enforcement, said things have improved since the merger.

“It was worse (before the merger) because you were pitting two groups against each other.”

Freeman said athletics administrators from both programs were nervous about the merge.

“There’s the fear of the unknown,” she said. “When we had (two) separate departments, we had so many female administrative positions and coaching positions that we had fought for many years and you feel it’s going to be taken away.”

Freeman said Maturi handled the merger well, creating task forces to address concern from both sides.

“It’s better for the University to be combined and they did it in a very responsible way,” she said.