Friday Night Lights — Not Just for Boys’ High School Sports!February 07, 2012
“A packed gymnasium, cheerleaders rallying the fans, the crowd on their feet supporting their team, and the pep band playing the school song: These are all things you might expect to see at an Indiana high school basketball game on a Friday night. The crowd becomes part of the game; they provide motivation, support, and encouragement to the players. After all, what would a spectator sport be without the spectators? Unfortunately, this is a question the Franklin County High School girls’ basketball teams must answer every season because half their games have been relegated to non-primetime nights (generally Monday through Thursday) to give preference to the boys’ Friday and Saturday night games. Non-primetime games result in a loss of audience, conflict with homework, and foster feelings of inferiority. The question we’re asked to decide in this appeal is whether such discriminatory scheduling practices are actionable under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). We think the plaintiffs have presented a genuine question of fact that such practices violate the statute, and therefore we vacate the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on this claim.”
— Parker v. Franklin County Community School Corporation(Judge John D. Tinder), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Just months ahead of the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s enactment, its advocates celebrated a significant victory. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of female basketball players who were allegedly relegated to weeknight games while the boys’ teams played on Friday and Saturday nights. The court found that the case of Parker v. Franklin County Community School Corporation could proceed to trial, reversing a lower court’s judgment in favor of the school district. The lawsuit claims that the weeknight game schedule for the girls makes homework a challenge, results in fewer spectators, generates feelings of inferiority, and violates Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Judge John Tinder, a President Ronald Reagan appointee, sports fan, and Indiana Hoosier, recognized the clear harm that this type of discrimination has on high school sports. We are optimistic that the trial court will follow a similar line of reasoning so that “Friday night lights” can shine for all athletes, regardless of gender.
This case represents part of AAUW’s efforts to advocate vigorous enforcement of Title IX and all other civil rights laws pertaining to education. Title IX’s impact on women’s athletic participation is one of the country’s greatest civil rights success stories, changing the playing field dramatically for girls and women in sports. The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund provided financial assistance to the plaintiffs in this case. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members. Other LAF initiatives include community and campus outreach programs, an online resource library with downloadable advocacy tools, a Legal Referral Network, and research reports.
Update: This case was settled October 15, 2012 in the plaintiff’s favor. The school district agreed to schedule a few more girls’ games in primetime each year over the next several years, until the scheduling is equal.