With excitement over the new college football season in full swing, Kent State University may have been overeager in its efforts to promote its football game, and in so doing, may have committed violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Meanwhile, at the high school level, schools and districts are falling far short of Title IX’s mandate.
Title IX states that 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 was intended to and indeed has increased participation opportunities for females, but it is apparent that those tasked with compliance continue to miss the mark.
On Sept. 7, Kent State’s football team was set to host Kennesaw State University on campus for a noon kickoff. However, prior to the football game, Kent State was hosting women’s field hockey contests, including a neutral site game between the University of Maine and Temple University.
The contest between Maine and Temple went to overtime and around 10:30 a.m., the teams were told that they could not continue the game.
The reason given for the suspension of the contest? The fire marshal needed to clear the field hockey facility, which was adjacent to the football stadium, in order to prepare pregame fireworks for the football game.
The match, which was 0-0 at the time it was suspended, was never completed. The teams were told that they could return to complete the match at 5:30 p.m. — seven hours after the match was suspended.
To make matters worse, Temple requested that the game be considered an official tie, which would have boosted the team’s rating percentage index by drawing against nationally ranked Maine, but the NCAA ruled against this request, stating that there are no ties in field hockey. The game was officially ruled a no contest.
Riley Field, a senior captain for Maine, stated, “It’s offensive, and it’s upsetting to think that just because of your gender, your sport is looked at as less.”
Temple’s head coach Susan Ciufo took the opportunity to point out that this is just a more overt example in a pattern of subtle inequities faced by women’s sports teams, for example, better practice and game times.
Kent State Athletic Director Joel Nielsen issued an apology to all those affected by the decision, but the fallout for Kent State is unlikely to end there. In the aftermath, student-athletes and officials at both the University of Maine and Temple pointed to Title IX. In addition, official complaints were filed with Kent State.
In the context of intercollegiate athletics, Title IX compliance may be met in one of three ways: (1) gender participation numbers proportional to overall enrollment; (2) a history of continuing expansions of opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or (3) demonstration that the interests and abilities of the sex in question have been sufficiently accommodated by the present program.
Guidance from the Office of Civil Rights provides feedback on compliance with the foregoing prongs and focuses on evaluating these questions through nondiscriminatory methods, such as surveys of student interests, looking at participation and accomplishment in the sport at the club and intramural levels and the opinions of coaches and other athletic officials about the sustainability of a team.
One fact the bears upon Title IX compliance is access to facilities, including the timing that such access is provided. For example, even if both men’s and women’s teams are provided access to the same facilities, if the women’s team is only provided access at inconvenient times, a Title IX violation may be found.
In the Kent State case, this fact clearly cuts against the institution, particularly on the basis of timing. It is simply not acceptable that the participating teams were asked to suspend their contest with the only alternative for completion of the match being seven hours after the match was suspended. It’s clear that Kent State officials prioritized the football game, both in terms of timing and facility access.
Despite having compliance staff presumably well-versed in Title IX, Kent State committed what appear to be obvious violations, and the school will be forced to address the fallout from its decisions. This has already precipitated institutional complaints and could potentially see private causes of action in court, if the aggrieved parties are so inclined.
Ongoing issues with Title IX are not unique to colleges and universities. In fact, a recent report suggests that compliance at the high school level is inadequate, in some cases egregiously.
While there is no centralized database maintaining Title IX statistics at the high school level, which is perhaps a problem in and of itself, the website Deadspin.com recently published a piece indicating that Title IX compliance at the high school level is circumspect, at best.
Citing anecdotes from high school administrators, and statistics from the Women’s Sports Foundation, the piece concludes that participation opportunities for female student-athletes are greatly lacking. The Deadspin expose notes that females are offered 1.15 million fewer participation opportunities and posits several reasons for the wide-spread noncompliance.
Reasons noted include: (1) an overall lack of knowledge regarding the statute, including individual rights; and (2) the fact that Title IX compliance relies upon individual reporting to address violations, particularly at the high school level where there are not established Title IX offices designated to oversee compliance.
The piece provides information on ways in which student-athletes and other interested persons can address potential violations.
Title IX, which was enacted nearly 50 years ago, has certainly advanced the cause of female participation in athletics, but the foregoing is demonstrative of the fact that the statute has not fully remedied pervasive equality issues.
Individuals and institutions continue to get away with violations of the federal mandate, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Opportunities have undoubtedly increased since its enactment, but Title IX remains necessary to enforce compliance, and arguably, additional efforts should be dedicated to ensure that participants at all levels of competition are provided opportunities that the law requires.