Beware: Title IX mistakes can crush your athletics program

According to the news report, softball players of Carroll College, Montana have filed a lawsuit against their college for discriminating against female student-athletes in areas including, scholarships, fundraising opportunities, equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice time, and so on.  

Curiously, as per the college administration, an independent and comprehensive review of their athletics department – conducted just last year – had concluded that the college was Title IX compliant.

Troubling, isn’t it!

We as Title IX compliance professionals, what should be our take away from this news item! Here are a few questions that I was forced to ask myself:

  •  What really constitutes Title IX compliance?
  •  What are the real red flags of Title IX non-compliance?
  •  Are we really attending to the needs of female student-athletes?

This article would explore questions such as these with respect to athletics. But before we expand our boundaries of understanding…

What is Title IX?

To quote the Act

“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 educational program or activity receiving financial assistance.”

In simple words, educational institutes receiving federal funding must ensure

  • Equity in all their educational programs and activities.
  • NO discrimination happens on the basis of sex and gender
  • Title IX protection for all – students, staff, faculty or visitors.


Here are the guiding principles put forward by the NCAA:

  • Treat all people with dignity, respect and concern for their well-being.
  •  All persons and departments are responsible for ensuring a safe and healthy college environment.
  •  Schools have a responsibility to have a healthy environment for prospective and current student athletes, both on and off campus.

How does Title IX apply to athletics programs?

The Title IX act treats athletic activities as a part of educational programs and activities offered by the college. Here are the three basic parts of Title IX as it applies to athletics: 

  1. Participation: College must provide equal athletic opportunities to athletes of both gender.
  2. Scholarships: Female and male student-athletes should receive athletic scholarships proportional to their participation.
  3. Other benefits: College must ensure equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in terms of the facilities provided to them, including:
    1. Equipment and supplies;
    2. Scheduling of games and practice time
    3. Travel and per diem expenses
    4. Access to tutoring
    5. Coaching
    6. Locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities
    7. Medical and training facilities and services
    8. Housing and dining facilities and services
    9. Publicity and promotions
    10. Support services
    11. Recruitment

How can our athletics programs comply with Title IX?

For this purpose, the most important of what you need to know is the OCR’s three prong test of compliance. The three-pronged test considers the number of male and female student athletes with respect to the overall enrollment. To be in compliance, your institution must be in compliance with one part of the three-pronged test.

  1. To meet the participation requirements, your college must pass at least one of the following three tests.
    1. Provide participation opportunities to men and women in proportion with their rates of enrollment.
    2. Demonstrate that you have a history of expanding athletics programs for the underrepresented sex.
    3. Accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.
  2. As stated in the previous section, the female and male student-athletes of your college should receive athletic scholarships proportional to their participation in athletic activities
  3. Ensure equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in terms of the facilities and provisioning.

Your athletics programs must meet the above standards of equal treatment. Be careful though, equal treatment doesn’t entail that you need to have identical athletics programs on your campus, what it entails is that your total athletics program should meet the standards of equal treatment. The men’s athletic program and the women’s should receive the same level of service, facilities, supplies, and so on.

OCR reviews the above issues if a college provides equivalent benefits and opportunities to their student-athletes. This makes it important for the college administration to review the availability, quality and kinds of benefits, opportunities, and treatment provided to male and female student-athletes within each of the above areas.

Athletic Scholarships

Here too, the focus of the Title IX law is not on numbers, but on equitable treatment of both genders. It’s not about the number of scholarships awarded, but the overall amount provided to male and female student athletes. The total amount awarded to male and female athletes should be proportional with their participation in athletic activities.

This does not mean that you are bound to spend an equal amount of money on your male and female student athletes. But, be aware that differences in spending can raise red flags about second-class treatment of female athletes.

Even competition and practice facilities are important

In 2009, a district court in San Diego ruled against a high school for allowing “significant gender-based disparity” in sports at the expense of female student athletes. The ruling was in response to a Title IX lawsuit filed by softball players. The softball players alleged that the girl’s team had fewer opportunities and lower-quality sports facilities than boys.

In another such Title IX case, a High school in Orlando was ordered by court to bring the girls’ softball diamond up to par with the boys’ baseball field.

Both the cases stemmed from significant disparities in the quality of facilities available to the female student-athletes. For compliance with the law, you need to look at the quality, availability, exclusivity of use, maintenance and preparation of practice and game facilities and locker rooms.

How to make your athletics programs compliant with Title IX

For beginners, here are three things that you should start with.

  1. First and most, ensure that a Title IX coordinator is in place. Publish the Title IX coordinator’s contact information. And, ensure that everybody knows who they are and how to reach them. These actions are required by law.
  2. Train your students, staff, and faculty. Everyone should know about Title IX requirements, and how to address discrimination.
  3. Evaluate your athletics programs, in overall and individually. Evaluate your athletics programs to determine if there are significant disparities between men’s and women’s athletics programs. Then take action to fix any problems.

Be aware that what we discussed above is just an introduction to the Title IX law, and concerns only with the athletics part of the law. Title IX is more than 45 years old, and covers an extensive ground. We’ll cover more of it in our upcoming articles.

Here’s the Title IX Athletics Requirements Checklist from the National Woman’s Law Center for you.

Jessica Holland

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