On June 23, Title IX celebrates its 40th anniversary. To young female athletes today, the amendment is ancient history, but its legacy continues to affect U.S. women's sports.
The WNBA is in its 16th season, Hope Solo and Natalie Couglin will be two of the biggest names at the London Olympics, and the number of female participants in high school and college athletics is at an all-time high.
But forty years after Title IX's adoption, some advocates for women's sports say support for girls on the court and on the field still doesn't match the enthusiasm lavished on their male counterparts. Until it does, women will not have achieved total equality, they argue.
Despite its connection today with women's sports, Title IX did not start out as a banner for female athletes. In fact, it doesn't mention women at all, at least directly: "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."
In 1975, three years after the amendment's adoption, the nation's attention shifted to women's athletics after prominent coaches and athletic directors protested Title IX's potential harm to football programs. They feared men's sports would lose money as schools started shifting more funds to women's sports.
In response to complaints, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare developed a framework for how Title IX was to be interpreted and followed. The regulations put in place largely determine the relationship between male and female sports today. As a result of Title IX dialogue, schools must offer scholarships and provide the same access to equipment, facilities and coaching for female athletes as they do for male athletes.
Former Sen. Birch Bayh, who co-authored and sponsored Title IX, said that inequality in higher education was the greatest threat to women forty years ago. Title IX was meant to give them a better shot at higher-paying jobs.
"If you give a person an education, whether it's a boy or girl, young woman or young man, they will have the tools necessary to make a life for families and themselves," Bayh said.
Most obviously Title IX has influenced the number of women who participate in athletics. Just two years after Title IX passed, the number of high schoolers participating in sports skyrocketed to 1.3 million. Fewer than 300,000 high school girls participated before. Prior to Title IX, one in 27 high school girls played sports. Now, one in two high school girls play sports, totaling to more than 3 million high school girls.
These numbers translate on the college level as well. More than 191,000 women played NCAA sports in 2010-11. And unlike their mothers or grandmothers, who were often limited to basketball and softball if they did get a chance to play, women now participate in everything from squash to skiing, rugby to wrestling.
Post-Title IX, female athletes have more opportunities to be physically fit, but the benefits extend to other areas of life. Female athletes do better in school and have higher graduation rates than the overall student population. They are less likely to smoke, use drugs, or be suicidal. A 1998 Women's Sports Foundation Report showed that teenage athletes were less than half as likely to get pregnant as non-athletes, and were more likely to delay having sex for the first time.
According to a 2002 survey by Oppenheimer Funds, the values that sports teach are linked to success in the professional world. The survey revealed that 82 percent of female business executives had played organized sports after elementary school.
"We compete every day in life, and it taught us how to in a healthy way," said Debbie Yow, athletic director at N.C. State. "In a more comprehensive way, it taught us how to lead."
Anne Shults, a member of the track and cross country teams at Wheaton College, a Christian university in Wheaton, Ill., said that running has helped her in other areas of life, with discipline, work ethic, and perseverance that translate into her school work as well.
"From day one, being a member of the team has been the biggest part of my college experience because of the team and the coaches," Shults said.
Male and female athletes at Wheaton are valued equally and receive equal attention, Shults said. When the school needed to adjust its budget, administrators made cuts to both male and female teams to comply with Title IX.
Despite the advancements in women's sports, many think the playing field is still not even enough. In the latest update of their "Women in Intercollegiate Sport" study, R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter found 215 female athletic directors at NCAA schools in 2012. But only 36 worked at Division I, and less than 5 percent of those worked at Football Bowl Subdivision schools, the power brokers in collegiate sports. Women typically make up more than half of the student population, but were only 43 percent of the athletes last year, according to the NCAA.
Yet the one, unquestionable imbalance between men's and women's sports is the difference in fan support. Although the WNBA is doing well, thanks in large part to early support from the NBA, it is the only major women's professional league. And despite the fervor that surrounded last summer's World Cup, Women's Professional Soccer folded last month after just three seasons. Although The NCAA set an attendance record for women's basketball with 11.2 million people last season, it was still only about a third of the 33 million fans the men's teams drew.
"There's a lot more gains to be had. I think there's a lot more room for growth, certainly in the participation numbers," said Angela Ruggiero, president-elect of the Women's Sports Foundation and a member of the 1998 U.S. team that won the first Olympic gold medal in women's ice hockey. Ruggiero said that the sporting aspect of Title IX makes the papers, but it really comes down to the question, "How do we educated our children to the best of their abilities?"
"When you break it down, you're going to support Title IX," Ruggiero said. "It wasn't, 'Let's make a quota.' It was, 'How do we better educate our children?' And athletics is part of it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.