On June 23, Title IX — a civil rights law forbidding discrimination based on sex — turns 50. And with the half-century that has ensued since the passing of the statute, there is certainly progress to celebrate.
Despite that progress, though, glaring disparities still exist.
In 1972, at the time of the legislation’s passing, Michigan offered 13 varsity sports — all of which were men’s teams. It was clear: many people didn’t believe women belonged in sports.
But in the years since, things have changed. Today, the Wolverines house 27 varsity teams, 14 of which are women’s programs. As society began to prioritize women in athletics, Michigan evolved too.
And the increase of women’s participation in sports at the collegiate level is clear across all NCAA institutions. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Title IX 50th anniversary report, 215,486 female athletes competed at the NCAA level in 2020-21. In comparison, only 29,977 females participated at the college level in 1971-72.
The increase is a sign of progress, but with 50 years of Title IX in effect, changes beyond participation numbers have hardly been made.
In 2021, at the women’s NCAA basketball tournament, the reality of women’s sports came to the forefront as a video from Oregon forward Sedona Prince displayed the inequality in tournament gyms and went viral. In comparison to the large areas filled with exercise equipment and weights that the men’s basketball players were provided, the women’s tournament offered merely a small room with one rack of dumbbells.
As the controversy circulated and people began to speak out about the inequality, important change seemed probable. And while some positive results occurred from this grave inequality in that increased attention, this was only one example of what has hindered female athletes for years. Until 1982 — 72 years after the NCAA was founded and 10 years after Title IX was passed — the NCAA did not sponsor championships for any women’s sports. While progress had been made before Prince’s video, it was clear that the problems were not entirely solved.
One year after the workout equipment controversy, those improvements were seen in the March Madness tournaments. For the first time in more than 20 years, the women’s tournament began with a First Four round, amounting to 68 teams, that matched the men’s tournament.
The changes were also evident at the women’s tournament itself. According to a gender equity review conducted by Kaplan Kecker & Fink in 2021, the NCAA spent $53.2 million dollars on the men’s tournament and just $17.9 million on the women’s in 2019. For this year’s tournament, the budget for both tournaments underwent redistribution and with the monetization improvement, all NCAA Tournament participants — men and women — received the same gifts, had access to hotel lounges and had games officiated by officials paid equally.
In the last year, reaching equity between women’s and men’s sports was prioritized, and with it, changes came about. Was it all because the NCAA got called out and enough people said something? Maybe — but that doesn’t make the change any less important or real.
All of the changes were much-needed improvements, but they were just a few of the many needed fixes. And at Michigan too, a lot of progress remains unfinished.
In 2021-22, The Wolverines’ endowment fund provided $149.9 million to the 27 sports offered at the University. But of that amount, only $33.7 million was allocated to women’s sports — which accounts for 14 of the 27 programs. And if you exclude football, men’s basketball and ice hockey, the 10 remaining men’s sports total $35.6 million, exceeding the amount that the women’s programs receive despite having four fewer sports in that comparison.
When its men’s basketball team made the Sweet Sixteen, Michigan Athletics received tickets which they allotted to students. But when the women’s basketball team made the Sweet Sixteen, no offer was given to students. And when the Wolverines reached the Elite Eight — for the first time in program history — the athletic department didn’t provide any opportunities for students to attend.
This year, the NCAA made a concerted effort to provide many of the same opportunities to both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March. But with Michigan’s lack of selling student tickets for the women’s tournament, the Wolverines displayed that more has to be done for equity to ensue.
And if universities don’t make an effort to support women’s programs outright and beyond the bare minimum, the progress of Title IX will continue to fall short.