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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Title IX helps even the playing fields

When Carmen Schmitt '97 stepped onto campus as a freshman four years ago, she was surprised to find that Dartmouth had no varsity women's volleyball team.

What she found instead was a club team -- unfunded by the College -- which struggled each year to pay for traveling expenses, uniforms and equipment. The team lacked permanent coaching, and team members were responsible for determining their own competition schedules.

"Volleyball is such a popular girls' sport in high school," she said. "I just didn't understand why there wasn't a varsity team offered here."

But Schmitt has witnessed tremendous changes since her freshman year.

This past year she was the captain of the women's varsity volleyball team -- which has full-time coaching, new equipment and guaranteed practice time in Leede Arena.

Schmitt and her teammates owe much of their progress to Title IX -- a law established 25 years ago which has greatly increased opportunities for women in intercollegiate athletics.

Title IX, one of the Educational Amendments passed by Congress in 1972, mandates "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 aid assistance."

The word "athletics" is mentioned nowhere in the mandate. But oddly enough, Title IX has catapulted the status of female athletics at American colleges and universities -- with Dartmouth ranking among the top in compliance with this law.

Women's Sports on Campus magazine reported in its Spring 1997 issue "the leaps forward in women's sports -- from the popularity of female Olympians to the recent establishment of two professional women's basketball leagues -- could have never been achieved without the rights and facilities that Title IX has afforded girls and women."

And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported since the passage of Title IX, the number of women in college athletics has increased fourfold.

Dartmouth: 'the glowing model'

Coincidentally, as women in sports prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Title IX, Dartmouth is also celebrating its 25th anniversary of coeducation.

Within the relatively short span of time since women began attending Dartmouth and the establishment of Title IX, the College has made great strides in achieving gender equity in athletics, Director of Athletics Dick Jaeger said.

"Title IX is a concept we believed in from the start," Jaeger said. "I think we still have ways to go, but currently we are the glowing model of gender parity in athletics."

Statistics show Dartmouth has had very little trouble meeting the standards of Title IX in recent years.

The College was ranked first among NCAA Division I-AA schools in its ratio of female athletes to the total number of female undergraduates in the student population, according to an analysis by USA Today two months ago.

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report -- released by the College in October 1996 -- reported 52.8 percent of the varsity athletes are male and 47.2 percent were female.

The numbers almost exactly match the ratio of male to female undergraduates -- 52.4 percent of the student population is male and 47.6 percent female.

Title IX regulations mandate that the percentage of female athletes must be within five percentage points of the number of female undergraduates -- a standard the College more than meets.

Amy Coelho '97, captain of the women's ice hockey team said "we're on par with the men's team. We get the same treatment they do."

Laura Mills '00, pitcher for the women's softball team, said she was "very impressed when I came here, because I think the school treats women athletes amazingly."

Mills said she thinks Title IX has allowed many women to take their athletics to another level.

Jaeger said the College has been working very hard for the past few years to provide equal opportunities for female athletes "without compromising the caliber of the athletic program."

The road to equity

Although the College is currently a model for Title IX equity, achieving this equity over the years did not come without struggles.

Dartmouth's history of being an all-male institution until 1972 made achieving gender equity much more difficult than it was elsewhere.

Prior to coeducation, women at the College primarily played the roles of Winter Carnival queen and weekend party dates, Associate Director of Athletics Josie Harper said.

"It was a slow and steady process," Harper said. "But Dartmouth was ready to embrace women in the same way it embraced men just by being aware of interests and by the steady adding of programs."

Harper said the women who participated in athletics during the early years of coeducation came from small private preparatory schools, where they had been exposed to athletics.

"These women probably wanted to continue athletics when they came to the College," she said.

Jaeger said changes in societal attitude towards female athletics have contributed largely to the increasing participation of women in college athletics.

More and more women are being exposed to sports and encouraged to participate at a younger age, and that makes them more likely to continue sports at intercollegiate levels, Jaeger said.

Although the College did not make heavy efforts at recruiting female athletes until the late 1970s, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg said Dartmouth has a long history of successfully attracting students who are able to succeed both academically and athletically.

Furstenberg said he attributed this attraction to the College's large selection of athletics offered compared to its relatively small size.

But Jaeger said it has always been a struggle to offer the same quality of athletics while trying to keep the playing field level for both female and male athletes.

Softball v. Dartmouth College

There was, in fact, a time in the College's recent history when the equity of athletic opportunities offered was questioned.

On April 12, 1993 the women's softball team filed a 26-page complaint letter against the College to the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights in Boston, charging the College with discrimination against female athletes.

The complaint, which accused the College of giving preferential treatment and more funding to men's athletic programs, launched an investigation of the College by the U.S. Department of Education for the violation of Title IX.

The complaint stated that although 48 percent of the student body was female during the 1992-93 school year, only 43 percent of Dartmouth athletes were women and only 42 percent of the athletic budget was allocated to women's teams.

Women on the softball team first verbally complained as early as 1989, and in July 1991, the team wrote a letter to Jaeger warning him that if varsity status was not granted, the team would consider the case a violation of Title IX.

Jaeger responded by pledging the College would "stand by our commitment to give your team as much monetary and administrative support as possible."

The College initially did not grant the team varsity status, citing insufficient student interest in the sport and the lack of College funds.

But Harper said the College at that time had already made it a priority to elevate women's softball to varsity status and had been working toward that goal for a few years.

These plans finally came to fruition in the fall of 1995, when women's softball, in addition to women's volleyball, was granted full varsity status.

The decision also made the number of female varsity teams equal to the number of male varsity teams -- and created additional funding for three female junior varsity programs in field hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

"It has been a pretty big shift coming up from a club sport status," Schmitt said. "It's provided me a lot of insight in how much work it takes to make everything equal."

Critics of Title IX

But critics of Title IX claim the amendment, while providing more opportunities for women, has had the unintended effect of restricting opportunities for male athletes.

For example, the rise of women's softball and volleyball to varsity status were accompanied by the demotion of the men's volleyball team from varsity to club status. And the additional funding provided for some of the women's junior varsity teams resulted in funding cuts from the men's gymnastic team.

Men's volleyball was one of the more successful varsity teams at the time, and the demotion drastically limited their access to varsity-level coaching, recruits, travel funds, equipment and post-season competition.

Men's Rugby Coach Wayne Young said it is unfortunate when the Title IX law has a negative impact on men's teams.

"What some schools have done is instead of increasing the opportunities for women, they are cutting the opportunities for men," he said.

"There are other ways to go about providing equal athletic opportunities than using Title IX," said Adam Nelson '97, a member of the men's track team. "I feel awful for anyone who can't participate in college athletics because the college cut their teams or limited their funding."

"We were upset about the whole thing when it happened," men's volleyball Captain Colin Gorman '97 said. "In general, I'm not a big fan of Title IX."

Gorman said the administration was "hesitant" to give Title IX as a reason for the demotion.

"The reason that they gave us was that the team cost too much in administrative oversight, which we thought was a joke," he said.

He said he thought the administration was sacrificing the men's team simply to comply to the quota set by Title IX.

Demoting the team to club sport status also discouraged other varsity teams from competing schools to schedule games against Dartmouth, since games against non-varsity teams do not factor into the number of league games required for post-season play.

Also, teams which compete under club sport status are not as skillful as those who compete in varsity, Gorman said.

Gorman said he finds the team's predicament "sad" because the team is not constantly challenged by tougher varsity competitors.

"We would rather struggle in games against teams that are really good than consistently win every game against opponents who are really easy," he said.

Other athletes, while sympathizing with the men's volleyball team's predicament, said Title IX compliance forces schools to make tough choices.

"If Dartmouth is committed to providing equality for both men and women, then there are sacrifices that have to be made," Schmitt said.

The landmark Brown decision

The courts redefined the meaning of Title IX in a decision that found one of the College's Ivy League counterparts -- Brown University -- to be in violation of the law earlier this decade.

In April 1992, nine gymnasts from the women's team filed a suit against the school for violating Title IX, on behalf of all women participating in Brown intercollegiate athletics.

The year before, Brown had stripped two men's varsity golf and water polo teams and two women's varsity gymnastics and volleyball teams to donor-funded club-varsity sport status.

"At the time, we were trying to save the athletic department from a $1.6 million dollar deficit," Brown Athletic Director David Roach told The Dartmouth.

The Supreme Court last month upheld an earlier ruling against Brown that found the university was in violation of Title IX.

The courts found that despite the fact Brown had an equal number of men's and women's varsity teams, the percentage of male athletes greatly outnumbered female athletes -- and this constituted a violation of the law.

Brown attorney Maureen Mahoney, in her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, accused Title IX of fostering discrimination against male athletes rather than preventing discrimination against female athletes.

And Roach said the Supreme Court decision left other colleges and universities who were still trying to comply to Title IX "in a bind, playing the number game."

"The courts are saying to Peter, 'You can't play unless Sally plays,' and that's unfair," Roach said.

Roach said despite the benefits of Title IX, he believes "it's absurd that we are going to have to spend the time counting numbers to meet a quota -- especially in schools like Brown or Dartmouth or at any other school in the Ivy League where there are unlimited athletic opportunities."

Jaeger interpreted the Court's decision as being justified. "Basically the Supreme Court's claim is that if the opportunities were equal, then the participation would be equal," Jaeger said. "But since Brown offered disproportionate opportunities, the participation was disproportionate as well."

Harper said she thinks the outcome of the Brown case was significant in that it will keep other schools that are far from compliance with Title IX "on their toes" and strive harder for gender equity.

"I think you will see the schools that were awaiting the Brown decision quickly move ahead," she said.

The football factor

Much of the discrepancy between the percentage of female athletes to total female students is due to the existence of football -- a sport which has no female equivalent, Harper said.

Large state universities pour most of their athletic funds into male-dominated sports such as football and basketball, and this contributes to the disparity in distribution of funding for male and female athletes, she said.

Football Coach John Lyons said compliance with Title IX would be easier if football were not factored into the gender-parity equation.

"There are over 100 men between the varsity and junior varsity teams," Lyons said.

In order to meet Title IX standards, additional athletic opportunities for more than 100 women would have to provided to match the number of men participating in football.But Harper said despite the fact that football creates a disparity, "it would be ridiculous to take football out of the equation."

Beth Crenshaw '99, a member of the women's track team, said she thinks sports like football or other "men's sports" receive better recognition than some of the women's teams.

"I see it a lot more in the training room," she said. "They get a lot more attention and we sometimes get looked over."

"Football is not something special," Harper said. "Lots of young men choose to participate in the sport because they want to and because the opportunity is there."

Harper said equal opportunities should be provided for the same number of young women who wish to participate in athletics.

"If people worked within the spirit of Title IX, they wouldn't see it as providing opportunities for women, not as taking away opportunities from one sex and giving it to someone else," she said.