For the past 18 years, I have had the privilege of teaching the course “Gender Issues in Sport” to students at Ithaca College. Our unit on Title IX and its impact on federally funded school athletic programs is always a bit of a roller coaster ride, with the end result being a moment when some — sometimes almost all — students realize that they may be far more educated about the requirements of Title IX than college athletics directors, coaches and maybe even presidents. I have become increasingly confident that students are more literate in Title IX’s legislative history and requirements as they pertain to participation and also in the areas of coach compensation and sexual harassment than many working in college and university athletics departments.
Why is it that Title IX, a form of cultural shorthand for gender equity in athletics, is so familiar and yet so little understood? While 82 percent of a random sample of adult Americans surveyed in 2007 by the Mellman Group, a research-based strategy group, supported Title IX, less than 60 percent knew how it was enforced.
This void in information can be explained by the failure of schools to designate a Title IX coordinator who would be in charge of taking proactive steps to educate administrators, teachers, coaches and students in the aftermath of Title IX’s passage. Despite this requirement, some schools either ignored it or simply were not aware that this had to be done.
Recognizing that a Title IX information gap exists, I worked with Erianne Weight, assistant professor of sport management at Bowling Green State University, this spring on the first national study of Title IX literacy among college coaches working at NCAA Division I, II and III institutions. We found that while college coaches are often frustrated with gender equity issues, they are not aware of basic Title IX information.
Despite the fact that Title IX compliance should be a guiding principle in decision making and allocation of resources in athletics departments,
82 percent of the coaches indicated that they had never been expressly taught about Title IX as part of their preparation as coaches, and more than 65 percent identified mainstream media as their primary source of Title IX information. While eight federal courts have determined that Title IX does not constitute a quota system, less than one-third of the coaches were aware of this.
Moreover, when asked about whether they reviewed their school’s annual Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report — the report that publicly discloses how resources are distributed within the athletic department and between men’s and women’s sports — 82 percent indicated that they did not. In keeping with recent court cases involving coaches who claimed they had been retaliated against for their efforts to urge institutions to comply with Title IX and remedy inequities in their athletic departments, 148 coaches reported in our study that they risked losing their jobs by speaking up about Title IX issues.
This research project will be expanded to include surveys of university attorneys, athletics administrators and athletes to assess their Title IX literacy. I will also be working with the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Collegiate Athletic Association on the development of a national Title IX education program similar to what is in place to educate coaches about NCAA rules pertaining to recruiting and athlete eligibility. The results from the Title IX College Coach Literacy Project support a renewed commitment from colleges and universities to proactively work