Talking Title IX

Starting the conversation on compliance

More stories from Nicole Bellford

Talking+Title+IX

Believe it or not, most people break the law at some point in their lives.

Whether it entails zipping through a red light, jaywalking, taking a sip of alcohol before turning 21 years old or simply speeding on an open road in order to make it to work on time, a lack of compliance is essentially inevitable.

Why? Because not everyone gets caught.

In the case of Title IX, non-compliance has wreaked havoc on the success of the legal enactment. While the document has dramatically increased opportunities and participation levels for women in athletics, this success is a far cry from genuine equality.

Title IX contains two primary requirements for federally funded sports. First, institutions must offer both genders equal opportunities to participate in athletics. Then, schools are required to provide equal treatment to the males and females who are participating. This “equal treatment” includes financial aid (at the NCAA Division I and II level), facilities, equipment, scheduling, traveling, recruitment, coaching, tutors and medical and support services.

Nevertheless, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) reports girls still have 1.3 million fewer chances to play sports in high school than boys. These barriers are most commonly present in the form of “inferior treatment” within the realm of equipment, coaching, facilities and scheduling.

For example, is it really equal if the boys’ baseball team gets to practice immediately after school everyday, receives new uniforms each year and a top notch field if the girl’s softball team doesn’t get to practice until 6 p.m. everyday, hasn’t received uniform updates in 10 years and plays on a field that turns into a swamp when it rains due to a lacking underground drainage system? I’ll give you a hint: The answer is no.

On the NCAA Division I and II levels, the NCWGE found women make up 51 percent of the student body, yet receive only 45 percent of the opportunities to play intercollegiate athletics. In addition, these females get 42 percent of the athletic scholarship dollars, and only 28 percent of the total money spent on athletics.

Oh, and here’s the real kicker: In the last five years alone, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has launched over 450 Title IX compliance investigations against institutions across the nation due to legal complaints. As of 2017, 360 of these cases remain open.

In 2012, my father helped launch a Title IX federal complaint against my high school alongside 42 other concerned parents. While many of my peers assumed my dad was fighting for just the girls’ swim team (because I was a member), he was fighting for so much more than that.

My dad discovered a plethora of Title IX violations at my school. From the lack of equality between the girls’ and boys’ swim team facilities, to the clear distinction between the girls’ softball field and boys’ baseball field, to the fact the wrestling team received brand new exercise mats while the cheerleading team practiced on mats that contained ringworm-causing bacteria, inequality was peering around every corner of our athletic department.

The good news is, after a lengthy OCR investigation, my high school was found guilty of non-compliance and forced to make the necessary changes to achieve equality. The bad news? It took over 4 years for the changes to happen.

This is unfortunately the norm for Title IX cases across the nation. Schools are clearly non-compliant, and the OCR knows it, but either the grace period for crafting a solution lasts far too long, or a solution is never activated. This lacking disciplinary action sends the unfortunate message to schools that noncompliance is “okay,” promoting a continuous cycle of gender inequity.  

Compliance is a hugely important and intricate subject in the realm of Title IX. It has layers upon layers of issues. This week, I simply introduced the topic and shared my personal experience. Next week, I will be taking a closer look at the different myths and “justifications” for non-compliance. And trust me, I will be proving each and every one of them wrong.  

It’s time the rulebreakers get caught.