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As Athletics Budgets Plunge, Who's Fighting For Women's Sports On Campus?

Illustration for article titled As Athletics Budgets Plunge, Whos Fighting For Womens Sports On Campus?

When evaluating the college athletic departments that might be leaving programs in the dust or with a slashed budget, Title IX will be a huge factor in their decision.

Starting August 14th, coaches and other employees at colleges and universities are not required to report sexual assault allegations to the Title IX office which is one of the first steps in the Trump administrations ploy to make female athletes more vulnerable.

“We have two things intersecting right now, we have the pandemic and then we have the political nature of what happens around Title IX and from administration to administration the commitment to that can waiver fairly dramatically,” said Ellen Staurowsky, Program Director, Athletic Administration Concentration at Drexel University.


Title IX thrived under President Obama’s administration as he made strides toward equal rights for transgender athletes and allowing schools to add women’s sports team not solely based on an unscientific survey to “prove” interest — which was put in place by the Bush administration.

Starting in 2017, The Trump administration has cut funding to the Office for Civil Rights — which is the office that handles Title IX complaints once they are filed — forcing the department to slash approximately 27 jobs at that time as Title IX complaints are on the rise.

The Title IX enforcement process begins when a university whistleblower files a complaint in one of two places: The U.S. Office of Civil Rights or the campus Title IX office. If complaints are left unresolved, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights office can be sued directly. Bottom line here: the system relies on someone to say something, and it relies on the administrative backbone itself — the federal Office of Civil Rights — to be functional.

You’d probably be able to tell at this point that the effectiveness of Title IX is dependent on whom Trump assigns to the Office of Civil Rights. At best, as he has shown, he will hire someone who is ineffective, and at worst, someone identical to himself — incompetent. In 2017, The Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, introduced Candice Jackson as the administration’s first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights and the kicker here was once she got in front of reporters days later, she insisted her qualifications for the job were that she — as a white woman — faced discrimination growing up.


“I’m an advocate and this is the world I operate in, is making sure that girls and women have opportunities in sports, and even I’m exhausted,” Laura Gentile, Senior Vice President of espnW, wrote in Fortune in 2016. “We can only go back to our base so many times.”

Jobs in the Trump administration have been a revolving door. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights position is no different, with a few people taking the post after Jackson’s 2018 departure. So the expectations concerning the protection of women’s sports leagues should be of great concern right now.


After Election Day, it could be a much different picture.

“The question becomes how aggressive the federal government would be in investigating schools in terms of compliance,” Staurowsky said. “Depending on what happens this election, I think we’d be having a very different conversation because just as a prominent government official throughout his (Joe Biden) history he has been very committed to gender equity. Using the force of Title IX to achieve fairer environments for girls and women in athletics.”


The ratio of Title IX cases per investigative staff members in the OCR was 41 to 1 in fiscal year 2016, and that ratio has exponentially grew since 2016. 80% of those complaints had to do with gender inequalities in sports.

In 2019, among Division I athletes, women comprised of 47 %, 86,409 according to the NCAA Demographics Database. And currently women’s sports is at a half century high in terms of participation at th grade level rising from 1 in 27 pre Title IX to 2 and 5 as of 2017.


When looking to cut a women’s program according to Title IX compliance there are three factors: Does the proportion of female athletes in the athletics still match the percent of females in the undergraduate population? Once that question is answered the department can proceed to address the history of continued practice — has this school consistently added women’s programs? Finally, schools must ask whether they are properly accommodating interest and ability.

“If a school can do that they will be ok,” Staurowsky said. “Where schools get into trouble is with that second and third prong when they go to cut women’s teams.”


It’s a trickle-down effect — it can be difficult to demonstrate a history of consistently adding women’s sports if your school hasn’t been doing that over a lengthy period of time. And it’s hard to make a case for accommodating interest if you can’t show that you are adding programs over time.

Not even throwing a global pandemic into the mix, in 2018 the University of North Dakota cut it’s women’s hockey program — which also happened to be a hotbed for U.S. Olympic players. The school cited budgetary concerns for the much-criticized move.


“Title IX does not create an insurance that women’s programs are not going to be cut,” Staurowsky said. “The question becomes, after the fact, whether schools can be held accountable if they are not in compliance in terms of criteria.”

When it comes to the budgetary shortfall this pandemic has created, Tony Weaver, Chair of Elon University’s Sports Management department and a former Division I athletic director, says that women’s programs that have an established competition structure with a conference and NCAA tournaments will likely be kept intact. Sturowsky agrees, but says Title IX can’t guarantee that it happens at all universities.


“The system is both exploitative and discriminatory. It exploits the 1 percent of the revenue generators. It discriminates against women. It has no commitment to fairness at an economic level,” Staurowsky said.

Adding, that recent data shows the vast amounts of schools aren’t in compliance with Title IX anyways, but they could reverse course during this pandemic to show that they are committed to gender equity.


“There’s a sense that Title IX and girls participating in sports and gender equality is a done deal, when in fact the reality is it’s very fragile,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic champion, civil rights lawyer, and founder of Champion Women, told ThinkProgress back in 2017.

The question isn’t whether Title IX will exist after this is all said and done. It’s a question of whether it will be trampled over and thrown by the wayside in the name of “budgetary reasons.”

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