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 of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. It covers participants, such as staff and students, in any educational institution or program receiving federal funds, including local school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, career and technical education programs, libraries and museums.

Athletic programs are considered “educational programs and activities” and are therefore covered under Title IX. With regards to athletics, schools are required to provide equal athletic opportunities to all students regardless of sex.

Since Title IX’s passage in 1972, opportunities for both female and male students to participate in athletics have increased dramatically. However, women still have fewer participation opportunities than men; women’s sports programs still receive less funding than men’s programs; female athletes receive fewer scholarships than male athletes; and athletic departments allocate less recruitment funding for female athletes than male athletes.

This resource will help you identify potential Title IX violations and provide information to help you work toward resolving violations.

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

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How can I tell if a school’s athletic program complies with Title IX?

To comply with Title IX, a school’s athletics program must do at least one of the following:

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

A school’s athletics program must also ensure that all students receive athletics scholarship funding proportional to their participation regardless of sex, and that there is equal treatment of all student athletes in all aspects of an athletic program, including equipment, scheduling, coaching, facilities, promotion, etc.

Each institution covered by Title IX is required to designate a Title IX coordinator to help ensure compliance with the law. Use our Title IX locator tool or ask the school’s administration for the coordinator’s name and contact information. In many cases, the coordinator and the administration will be willing to work with you to change inequitable treatment.

When determining whether a school is complying with Title IX, the coordinator will compare the entire men’s program to the entire women’s program, not individual sports or activities. The total comparison allows for a situation where male and female athletes can participate in different sports without the need for athletics programs that are identical. Simply put, variations in athletics programs are permitted, as long as the overall athletic opportunity remains equal. 

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

No. Title IX does not require schools to eliminate or defund any sports. Title IX simply requires schools to meet one of the three compliance criteria listed above. Title IX was designed to expand athletic opportunities, not restrict them. It only requires that institutions offer equal opportunity to athletes regardless of sex.

Does Title IX cover anything other than sports?

Yes. Title IX covers all areas of education, including academics, admissions, residential life and extracurricular activities. It also covers sexual harassment and sexual assault in schools, protects the rights of pregnant and parenting students and prohibits retaliation against anyone for reporting or attempting to remedy sex discrimination in their institutions.

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

Talk to your school’s Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator plays a vital role in ensuring compliance. Each institution covered by Title IX is required to designate a Title IX coordinator. Use AAUW’s Title IX coordinator locator tool or 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 inequitable treatment.

You can also Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education. Any person, including a student, teacher, coach, parent, or community member, who believes an institution has discriminated on the basis of sex may report the suspected violation to OCR. You do not need to have experienced the discrimination directly in order to report it.

OCR may then investigate the complaint and determine whether the institution violated Title IX. If OCR does find violations of Title IX, it will attempt to work with the institution to bring the institution into compliance. OCR has the authority to seek termination of an institution’s federal funding if the institution refuses to comply.

I’m not ready to file a complaint with OCR yet. What else can I do?

Follow these steps to try to resolve discrimination through your school’s internal procedures:

1. Keep good records. If you think the girls’ athletic teams at your school are being treated unfairly, identify and document exactly what discrimination you see. For example: 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 others. Once you have identified unfair treatment, share your findings with other athletes, parents, coaches, teachers and community members. 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. Use AAUW’s Title IX coordinator locator tool or 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.

4. Consider other options. If neither the Title IX coordinator nor OCR adequately remedy the discrimination, you can also consider hiring an attorney and filing a private lawsuit under Title IX. You have the option of filing a private lawsuit without filing the OCR or internal complaint first.