Women's Sports Women's Participation in College Sports Term Paper

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Women's Sports

Women's participation in college sports has increased significantly since Title IX was passed in 1972, but research fails to show that female athletes get the status, respect and approval that athletic participation brings to males (Royce, Gebelt and Duff, 2001).

The 1972 legislation, one of 13 amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, launched revolution in the way that federally funded schools treat women in athletic programs.

It simply states (Funk, 2002): "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 program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

This single sentence has been questioned, contested in lawsuits filed by both men and women, and debated endlessly to determine how best to provide opportunities for both genders in sports.

Miller and Levy (1996) argue that, "Sports participation by females routinely carries a negative stigma" (p. 112). Because of this negative stigma, and because traditional images of sports are largely perceived as incompatible with traditional roles for women, female athletes are likely to be discouraged from participating in sports activities in colleges and universities, due to numerous factors, including gender conflict and discrimination.

For many years, women have played sports for various reasons, including the simple reason that they enjoyed the pleasures and challenges of athletics (Cahn, 1999). Through sport activities, women have opportunities to develop skills, win medals, broaden their social worlds, and push their physical and mental limits through competition and teamwork.

However, it was not until the 1960s that the troubled image and limited popularity of women's sports became truly accepted by society (Cahn, 1999). Still, women were not given the encouragement and support that men had enjoyed for many years. Women competed in sports, but they did so with very limited financial support, minimal media coverage, and much suspicion about their sexual preferences. This problem subsided as a new generation of young physical educators began lobbying for intercollegiate competition. Women within the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) pushed for change, and after decades of misrepresentation, physical educators and AAU leaders united to promote women's athletics.

With the new era of feminism in the early 1970s, women's athletics emerged in an environment in which long-standing barriers to participation in sports were eliminated (Cahn, 1999). Supported by the feminist movement, advocates of women's sport demanded equal access to athletic resources and training. Their key victory was marked by the U.S. passage of Title IX of the 1972 Educational Act, restricting sexual discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal funds. The act dictated that educational institutions of all levels develop gender equality in their athletic programs.

Title IX was the start of two decades of significant athletic progress in academic institutions and beyond. In women's college sport, the number of intercollegiate athletes in the United States rose from 16,000 to over 160,000 between the early 1970s and late 1980s (Cahn, 1999). Along with this dramatic increase in numbers, women athletes enjoyed far greater acceptance and appreciation, as more and more female athletes became household names and famous celebrities.

The recent popularity of women's sports suggests its important and controversial place in existing conflicts over gender and power in U.S. society (Cahn, 1999). As far as women's sports are concerned, issues of access and equity still dominate educational institutions. Decades after the passage of Title IX, few colleges have adequately met standards for gender equity in school sport.

After 30 years, many men's teams have been cut. Wrestling advocates argue that Title IX has been detrimental to the sport, noting that 108 schools dropped programs between 1984 and 2000 (Funk, 2002). However, proponents of Title IX argue that most men's teams have been dropped because of irresponsible financial planning by athletic directors, who use Title IX as a "distraction" for their decisions.

Much debate has focused on whether men's sports have been eliminated because of Title IX or because of financial burdens (Funk, 2002). This has resulted in what some believe to be the "unintended consequences" of Title IX -- cutting men's teams to increase proportionality.

However, while many men's teams have been cut, the number of men's teams still outweighs the number of women's (Funk, 2002). According to the General Accounting Office 2001 report on adding and dropping teams, "from 1981 to 1999 there were 3,784 women's teams added and 36 men's. But today there are still about 170,000 men's teams and about 150,000 women's."

According to Funk (2002): "In 1979, the Department of Education said a school must meet one of three criteria to comply with Title IX, often referred to as the three-pronged test: fulfill the proportionality goal -- the percentage of men and women athletes must equal the percentage of men and women in the general student body; show it had recently expanded opportunities for women, or prove that women had been accommodated."

Bernice Sandler, senior scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., has studied the legislation from its inception (Funk, 2002). She now says that she was naive to think that in one or two years sex discrimination would be fixed.

In the early years of Title IX, people questioned exactly what the law required of college athletic departments and legal challenges that followed (Funk, 2002). Sandler and other proponents of women's sports saw the need for Title IX in an academic setting, with the lack of women in educational positions. Today, Sandler says Title IX has made landmark movements for women.

Tim Curley, Penn State's athletic director, says funding is the primary challenge for schools' compliance of Title IX (Funk, 2002). Many universities make meeting the requirements of Title IX a priority, but "every school is challenged from a funding standpoint." While it is an excellent goal to keep men's sports while maintaining and adding women's sports, it is not easy and many athletic directors hope there will be some "relief" in how proportionality is applied.

Since its inception in 1972, Title IX has caused a great deal of debate about how gender should be governed in education, and even today, in the most civilized forums, the debate shows no signs of tapering off (The Daily Orange, 2003).

Over the last decade, we have witnessed the problems -- and benefits -- that schools trying to meet the proportionality requirements often encounter (The Daily Orange, 2003). Title IX lists three measures for compliance, but the most important is proportionality, which requires schools' male-female ratio in athletics to be equivalent to the male-female ratio in enrollment. Syracuse University Director of Athletics Jake Crouthamel calls proportionality "a monster," and to satisfy it, the school's athletic department added three women's teams in the last seven years (The Daily Orange, 2003). Troubled by newfound expenses from women's soccer, women's lacrosse and softball, Syracuse has also been forced to cut two men's teams: gymnastics and wrestling. This action has been taken by other colleges, as well, and not without protest.

Suggs (1999) presents an interesting question. "College coaches cut unskilled and unfit players from their teams every day. Almost everyone -- except perhaps for the cut players -- would say that's fair. But what happens when a university cuts an entire team of male players to make room for women? Is that fair?"

This is a popular question in athletics departments as they try to comply with Title IX standard and create an equitable situation for female athletes (Suggs, 1999). However, many are concerned with preserving their strong revenue streams from football and men's basketball.

In 1999, the Board of Trustees at Miami University in Ohio delayed for two months a decision on whether to drop men's golf, tennis, soccer, and wrestling, moves that it is considered for financial as well as gender-equity reasons (Suggs, 1999). Recently, a federal judge in Illinois dismissed a suit brought by former male soccer players and wrestlers at Illinois State University after it dropped their teams to meet gender-equity goals.

Activists, athletics directors and government officials have different positions on the issue (Suggs, 1999). A coalition of conservative groups argues that is unfair to both men and women to eliminate men's sports for gender-equity reasons. Men are naturally more likely to be interested in playing sports than women, they argue, and depriving men of athletic opportunities to meet proportionality guidelines is discriminatory. Activists for women's sports agree that athletics administrators are making poor decisions on how to spend money, arguing that they should cut back funding for popular men's sports rather than eliminating less-profitable teams.

Government officials who enforce Title IX argue that the rights of women to participate in college sports strongly outweigh the rights of individual men to participate in certain sports (Suggs, 1999). Many school administrators say their hands are tied by financial constraints, and that they simply cannot afford to add women's sports. "I think almost everybody in higher education believes the goal of Title IX is worthy," says James C. Garland, Miami State University's president…

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