Title IX, 30 Years Later

As the 30th anniversary of the passage of Title IX approaches, the controversies it spawned have been much in the news. There is little question that Title IX has, in most ways, been a huge success...

Putting it simply, Title IX says schools receiving federal funds are forbidden from practicing discrimination based on gender. Though it applies to all areas, it is in athletics that it has had the most impact.

There is no question that Title IX has resulted in immensely expanded opportunities for women to compete in varsity sports and receive scholarships on the college level. No one could sensibly argue that point or not agree that it is a good thing.

Without Title IX, Maggie Bowen might never have had the opportunity to lead Auburn to a national swimming championship. Alabama might never have won gymnastics national championships. We might never have heard of Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Maggie Bowen at the 2002 NCAA Championships.

But it hasn't all been good. In an effort to meet regulations that call for the number of available scholarships to be roughly proportional to the percentages of men and women in the student body have frequently caused men's sports to be eliminated instead of women's sports to be added. There is continued debate over whether football, which pays the bills at many big-time schools, should be included in the calculations. At Auburn, Alabama and other schools in big-time conferences, football is the cash cow. It is football that allows other sports - men's and women's - to be properly funded. That sounds like a slam dunk argument until you consider that just 65 of the 1,200 football-playing schools in the country made money from the sport last year.

There is, at many schools, a drastic difference between what coaches of men's teams and coaches of women's teams are paid. Some would argue that is because men's sports make money. Truth is, even in the SEC, football and basketball are the only sports that make significant money. If baseball breaks even or makes a few bucks, that's a plus. Other sports, whether it's swimming or gymnastics, golf or tennis, men or women, are losing propositions financially.

What's the answer? I don't know and I don't think others do, either. But at Auburn and Alabama, it would seem things are being done the right way.

Like it or not, the market demands huge salaries for head football coaches and basketball coaches and even assistant football coaches. Everywhere else, the salaries are similar. Alabama baseball coach Jim Wells is paid $155,000 a year. Women's basketball coach Rick Moody and gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson make the same.

At Auburn, women's golf coach Kim Evans makes $75,000, more than men's golf coach Mike Griffin. Swimming coach David Marsh, with three national championships to his credit, is the highest paid coach outside of football and basketball at $109,000. He coaches both men and women. Generally, salaries are based on what coaches have accomplished and their experience level. Nothing wrong with that.

Women's golf coach Kim Evans.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing women's college athletics is generating interest. The federal government can mandate some things. It can't tell people to buy tickets.

Joe Ciampi built the Auburn women's basketball program into one of the nation's best. That has seldom translated into large crowds showing to watch. Alabama gymnastics draws large crowds, but if you can't get a free ticket to an Alabama gymnastics meet, you don't know anybody.

Does that mean that women's sports and female athletes are less important? Absolutely not. College athletics should be about more than drawing fans and making money. It is, after all, supposed to be an educational enterprise. If you eliminated sports that don't draw large crowds and make money, you wouldn't have many left.

The interest in so-called Olympic sports, those that make no money, waxes and wanes. Auburn people far and wide celebrated the women's swim team winning a national championship, but few of them would hesitate to swap that national championship for one football win over Alabama.

The same goes for gymnastics at Alabama. Auburn people liked it when the tennis team went to the final eight, but that's not going to result in large crowds at tennis matches next year. They thought it was a great thing that the women's golf team spent most of the year ranked No. 1 in the nation, but next year's team won't have to worry about being distracted by noisy galleries.

There are always going to be advocates on both sides. Some women insist that things are still far from equal, taking particular aim at football. There is a lawsuit pending challenging the demise of college wrestling programs, cut most places to make room for more women's scholarships.

It's not a perfect system, but it's not ever going to be.

What is clear is things are far better than they once were. In my high school days in the late 1960s, there were essentially no opportunities for girls to participate in athletics, other than as cheerleaders. When I played youth baseball, the only opportunity for a girl to be involved was to try to be chosen as the league queen.

Title IX, more than anything else, changed all that. And that is a very good thing.


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