Thinking about sports

The legacy of Title IX

There are two reasons why sports have become more prominent at elite schools in recent years, according to Fried: the professionalization of sports and Title IX, the 1972 sex discrimination law best known for giving girls and women equal access to federally funded school sports programs. The two phenomena are related. The numbers of girls playing high school sports has multiplied at least tenfold since 1972, and women today account for nearly half of all college athletes. In 1993, Stanford announced it would aim for parity between men's and women's sports programs; it increased the number of scholarships to female athletes as well as the coaching staff and the number of teams. The string of Directors' Cups started almost immediately thereafter.

But Title IX also has brought problems. Fried believes that women's sports have embraced the "professionalized male model of athletics." While the number of female athletic scholarships is up, that causes the same well-known problems that male scholarships do, Fried writes: "It is at least worth considering the possibility that feminists, looking at the larger issues of women's equality in the world beyond college, ought to regard this outcome as a Pyrrhic victory."

When Title IX was passed, 90 percent of coaches of women's college teams were women. By 2006, the number was 42 percent. On average they are paid half what men are paid. Women also have lost departmental control of women's collegiate sports programs. These are trends that disturb Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and founding director of Stanford's Center on Ethics.

In an article this year in the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Rhode reports on a nationwide survey of coaches and concludes that gender bias, an old-boys network and work/family conflicts are to blame for the paucity of female coaches. One of her co-organizers for a recent conference on Title IX, former Stanford track star and cross-country coach Dena Evans, has written about the incompatibility of being a top Division I coach and being a mother. In a 2006 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she called on athletics departments to follow academic departments' lead in finding ways for women to achieve their career goals with their families intact.