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ISU Guest Speaker: Title IX Has Absolutely Helped Female Athletes

University of Minnesota Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport
Dr. Mary Jo Kane

Mary Jo Kane said the explosive growth of women playing sports in America is absolutely attributable to the passage of Title IX in 1972. She used a former U-Conn basketball star as an example.

“Prior to Title IX," Kane began, "the parents of Diana Taurasi (now a WNBA All-Star) walk into the University of Connecticut and say ‘Hey, I’m Mr. Taurasi. I played at the University of Connecticut; my brothers played on an athletic scholarship, my uncles, my grandfather played. My daughter is extremely talented and you don’t have scholarships or a women’s basketball team and we need to do something about that,’” she said, then added how that conversation likely would have continued prior to Title IX.

"Really? Well you're in violation of federal law. See you in court."

“The Athletic Director could have said one of two things” explained Kane. “Either ‘I don’t care,’ or ‘I’m sympathetic but there’s no money in the athletic budget to add a women’s team.’”

The Bloomington born and raised Kane is a professor in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota as well as director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the school. She said the female/male imbalance at public universities changed with the passage of Title IX. 

“Now Mr. Taurasi could say, ‘Really? Well you’re in violation of federal law,’ said Kane before carefully spacing out ‘ See … You … In … Court.’”

Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972 specific to public educational institutions. The actual law never mentions sports, but it has come to be associated with closing the ratio between men and women participants in public university athletics. In part, the actual law states:

Credit University of Minnesota

“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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Prior to 1972, the money budgeted for female athletics at American universities hovered around 1 percent. Kane said today, “About 43 percent of all student scholarship athletes at the Division I level are female.”

Would similar progress been made without Title IX?

“No,” said Kane, saying Title IX and gender equity in athletics did not come to pass because the men who governed athletics suddenly realized women didn’t have 50 percent of the budget.

“Whenever you have a majority group with a stranglehold or a monopoly on a particular institution, one so deeply identified with men and masculinity, and where the stakes couldn’t be higher in terms of resources, status and prestige, they’re not going to go, ‘Oh my god, what an oversight, let us give you 50 percent,’” said Kane.

Those are the easy to quantify numbers from the passage of Title IX. Kane said other observables can be attributed to its passage, including the critical mass of young girls and women who play sports.

“What we now have for the first time ever in our country because of Title IX, and I see this every day in my classroom at the University of Minnesota, young women today grow up with a sense of entitlement to sports,” said Kane. “For example, it would never occur to them if they were good at sports and willing to pay the price that an opportunity would not have been there for them.”

Circling back to 43 percent of all student scholarship athletes at the Division I level devoted to females, Kane said football is the elephant in the room. Though she’s a huge fan of the sport, and specifies Notre Dame as a particular favorite, she said football is both the problem of (and solution to) compliance. Kane said the average size of a Division I football team is about 125 players, 85 provided with full scholarships.

“There is nothing analogous on the women’s side that would have a single sport with that many participants and that many scholarships,“ said Kane, pointing out NFL teams, “the gold standard of the (football) industry” only carry 53 players on its active roster.

“So one way to resolve the problem of Title IX, since only about 20 schools break even or make a profit with their football program, if the NCAA were to mandate that beginning next year no football team could have more than 70 players or more than 50 scholarships, you would reduce your expenses by a third. And then you could not only support yourself (football), but you could support other programs, including women’s sports.

Kane, a Bloomington Trinity High School (now Central Catholic) grad, will give the Esther Larson McGinnis Scholar Lecture at Illinois State University on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the Prairie Room of the ISU Bone Student Center.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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