Title IX built generation of better athletes

JoAnn Andregg
JoAnn Andregg, associate athletic director at the University of St. Thomas, explains a basketball move to two players. Title IX has given women better coaching, training facilities and even sports and nutrition research than girls received 40 years ago.
MPR photo/ Alex Friedrich

For the girls at this year's Minnesota high school track and field championships, Title IX is a lesson in a history book.

The sports it helped open up now dominate the lives of many of the girls.

Take 18-year-old Aitkin, Minn., High School senior Emily Lundgren, who runs the 400 meters.

Lundgren, who has been captain of her track and basketball teams and also plays tennis, said sports have been a big part of her life since the first grade.

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"That's what you do in your summer — you practice your sports," she said. "They mean a lot to me, to say the least. They've really made me who I am today."

Lundgren and her teammates are arguably better athletes because of Title IX. It has given them better coaching, training facilities and even sports and nutrition research than girls received 40 years ago.

The change is the result of Title IX, a landmark piece of federal legislation enacted 40 years ago tomorrow.

Graph: Women's sports over 40 years

Designed to prevent gender discrimination in the nation's education system, Title IX has paid dividends. Ten times more young women now play high-school sports than in 1972, according to statistics from National Federation of State High School Associations. There are six times as many female college athletes in NCAA colleges.

Title IX commemoration
espnW commemorates the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the world's largest photo mosaic of female athletes upon the Washington Newseum's 74-foot-high First Amendment tablet on Thursday, June 21, 2012.
Photo by Paul Morigi/Invision for espnW/AP Images

But it has become better known for opening up sports to women. Critics, meanwhile, say that progress has come at the cost of men's programs.

Stronger high school athletes grow into better college players -- and a few into professional athletes.

One example of the resources now available is the basketball camp held for young girls this month at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Varsity women's basketball players helped run the girls through drills, teach them special moves and immerse them in the game.

One of the teachers is Alyssa Favilla, a St. Thomas sophomore varsity forward who said sports gave her structure.

"They taught me time management — and how to be a competitor," she said. "And I use that in the classroom, too."

With each generation since Title IX, female athletes have grown bigger, stronger and faster, said Mary Jo Kane, director of the University of Minnesota's center for research on women's sports.

"They are infinitely more gifted than they have ever been," Kane said. "And it is a direct result of the decision of Title IX."

Aly Marzonie, Rachel Shellenback
In a May 22, 2012 photo, Aly Marzonie, right, and Rachel Shellenback, second from right, team captains of the New Trier High School girls' soccer team, kick a ball with teammates as they prepare for a game in the Illinois High School Association girls' soccer tournament in Skokie, Ill. Girls like those on the New Trier soccer team are reaping the benefits of Title IX, the federal amendment that opened up sports opportunities to girls and women 40 years ago. But some say there's still more progress to be made for girls in sports. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

Kane, 61, knows what it's like to have been excluded. She grew up a tomboy in Illinois in the 1950s and '60s and played touch football, basketball and baseball in her neighborhood. But her high school had no organized sports for girls.

The choice was little better for JoAnn Andregg, now associate athletic director at the University of St. Thomas. At her California high school, women's volleyball and basketball held second-class status: No coaches. No budget. No rights to the gym.

"That usually meant we got in there after the boys' team was finished practicing," Andregg said. "Then we got in there. And we had to wear these God-awful uniforms, these one-piece uniforms for practice and games. I remember that so distinctly. "

Title IX changed that. Now, high schools and colleges typically provide sports opportunities proportional to the number of enrolled students of each gender.

In the last four decades, the number of women's college teams per campus has almost quadrupled, according to a report by Brooklyn College professors R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter. But that has led to criticism that growth has come at the expense of men's programs.

While women now outnumber men on many college campuses, critics note that fewer women play college sports.

The American Sports Council, a group that wants to Congress to overhaul Title IX, has filed two lawsuits contesting the requirement of proportional sports offerings. Council media director Jim McCarthy said cash-strapped colleges have limited or slashed men's sports such as swimming, volleyball and soccer to make room for women's sports such as rowing, ice hockey and bowling.

McCarthy said Title IX requirements have led to a quota system that excludes male athletes who normally would have a shot at sports.

"That's been an absolute outrage, because the law is supposed to protect against discrimination," he said.

The solution, McCarthy said, is to end proportionality -- or at least survey all students about their real sports interests.

"Let the students themselves have a voice in how the law is applied," he said.

Kane and other Title IX supporters don't oppose surveys. But she said the methodology of past attempts has been flawed, and new surveys would have to be constructed and administered correctly.

Title IX supporters also say colleges are using Title IX as a scapegoat.

Kane says colleges could cut the fat from large football programs and use the savings to pay for women's sports without dropping men's.

Students still seem to prefer men's sports, judging from what some college athletes say.

"We've earned a lot of respect," Favilla said. "But I can see how they don't see us as equal sometimes. We don't dunk or don't sprint as fast. But usually they treat us well."

Andregg, of St. Thomas, is concerned with one ironic outcome of the legislation.

Thanks to Title IX, women's college sports have become more competitive. So men now want to coach them. According to the Brooklyn College report, more than half of women's college sports teams have male coaches. Before Title IX, only one in 10 did.

"We're going to have daughters coming up who never see a female coach," Andregg said of the trend. "And I just think that's a shame."

If that happens, Andregg says, girls won't have many female athletic role models - and that might risk the gains they've made in the past 40 years.