Know Your Rights: Title IX and Athletics

“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.”

—Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

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Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. It covers women and men, girls and boys, and staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds. Local school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, career and technical education agencies, libraries, and museums are all covered under Title IX. Under Title IX, schools are required to provide equal athletic opportunities to male and female and students.

Since Title IX’s passage in 1972, opportunities for female students to participate in athletics have increased dramatically. Before the law passed, there were fewer than 30,000 female varsity athletes at the university level in the United States; there are now more than five times that many. Despite this admirable improvement, women still do not enjoy equal opportunities in sports. While women made up about 53 percent of all undergraduate students during the 2010–11 school year, women athletes made up less than 40 percent of all undergraduate athletes. Today, many women’s sports programs still receive less funding than men’s programs, female athletes still receive fewer scholarships than male athletes, and athletic departments still spend a minority of their recruitment funding on female athletes.

The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund is committed to advocating for equal opportunities in sports for all students.

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How does a school comply with Title IX?

In order to comply with Title IX, a school’s athletics program must meet one of the following three tests:

  1. Provide athletic opportunities to male and female students in proportion to their overall enrollment at the institution; OR
  2. Demonstrate a history of continually expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; OR
  3. Demonstrate that the available opportunities meet the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

Does Title IX require my school to eliminate or defund boys’ sports?

No. Title IX does not require schools to eliminate boys’ sports or, for that matter, girls’ sports.  Title IX simply requires schools to meet one of the three compliance tests listed above. Title IX was designed to expand athletic opportunities, not restrict them.

Does Title IX cover anything other than sports?

Yes! Title IX requires gender equity in all areas of education, including academics, admissions, residential life, and extracurricular activities. It covers sexual harassment and sexual assault on campuses, and it protects the rights of pregnant and parenting students. It also protects faculty and staff from retaliation for reporting or attempting to remedy gender discrimination in their institutions.

If I think my school has violated Title IX, what can I do?

You can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. Any person, including a student, teacher, coach, parent, sports fan, or community member, who believes an institution has discriminated on the basis of gender may report the suspected violation to OCR. You do not need to be a victim of the discrimination in order to make a complaint. OCR will investigate the complaint and determine whether the institution violated Title IX. If OCR finds violations of Title IX, it will attempt to work with the institution to bring the institution into compliance. OCR has authority to seek termination of an institution’s federal funding if the institution refuses to comply.

Before filing an OCR complaint, however, you can follow these steps to try to resolve discrimination through your school’s internal procedures.

  1. Write down what happened. If you think the girls’ athletic teams at your school are being treated unfairly, identify and document exactly what discrimination you see. Is the girls’ team getting less practice time than the boys’ team? Does the girls’ team have to practice in inferior facilities or with inferior equipment? Are the girls’ games scheduled at less popular and convenient times than the boys’ games? Was a girls’ sport eliminated?
  2. Seek support from other athletes, parents, coaches, teachers, and community members. Once you have identified unfair treatment, share your findings with others. Explain what you believe is unfair and ask for help to make changes.
  3. Talk to your school’s Title IX coordinator. Each institution covered by Title IX is required to designate a Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator is in charge of ensuring the institution’s compliance with Title IX. Ask the school’s administration for the name of the Title IX coordinator and bring your concerns to the coordinator’s attention. In many cases, the coordinator and the administration are willing to work with you to change the unfair treatment. Bringing the problems to their attention before filing a complaint with OCR may allow you to work together to find equitable solutions.

If OCR and the administration do not adequately remedy the discrimination, you may consider hiring an attorney and filing a private lawsuit under Title IX.

What should I do to help ensure Title IX compliance if I am a college or university administrator?

Read this fact sheet for more information for college and university school administrators.

What should I do to help ensure Title IX compliance if I am a K–12 administrator?

Read this fact sheet for more information for K–12 administrators.

What should I do to help ensure Title IX compliance if I am a student or parent of a student?

Read this fact sheet for more information for students and parents.

What should I do to help ensure Title IX compliance if I am a teacher?

Read this fact sheet for more information for teachers.