Gender equality in athletics has made serious strides since Title IX was first passed in 1972, which created many more opportunities for women to participate in athletics in the past 50 years. However, despite the gains made, inequality in athletics still exists and needs to continually be addressed by the federal government, NCAA, and individual schools to ensure equality in sports. The three most prominent inequalities that still exist in college sports are disparities in funding, opportunities, and experience between male and female athletes.
Disparities in Funding
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Arguably the biggest problem facing women’s athletics currently is the disparity of funding. In the recent report about the state of women’s athletics, the NCAA reported that funding for men and women’s sports continue to rise. Division 1 has the biggest disparity between funding: “An analysis of total expenses indicates that Division I athletics departments are generally spending twice as much on their men’s programs than on their women’s programs.” The largest gap in spending occurs at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
It is important to note that Title IX does not specify that funding of athletic programs have to be equitable across genders, but the opportunity and resources must be equitable. Still a higher level of funding is indicative of athletes getting better resources, and inequities certainly exist here. According to the NCAA, “the median spending gap between men’s and women’s athletics programs has doubled from $12.7 million in 2008-09 to $25.6 million in 2018-19” at the FBS level. The disparities start to decrease at the Division 1 FCS level, where mens sports spends on average $400,000 more than women’s teams. Funding should increase for women’s sports as well, as an investment in new and existing programs would result in more opportunities for women.
Disparities in Opportunity
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Women’s participation in college athletics increased greatly since the passing of Title IX. However, across all divisions, women participation in sports is 11 percentage points lower than men. Men and women athletes account for 56.1% and 43.9% of total athletes, respectively although Title IX mandates that there must be an equal number of opportunities for women to men. The efforts to make women’s sports equal to men’s participation rates has made strides over the past five decades of Title IX. However, there are considerably more opportunities available for male athletes than for women as men gained 73,000 opportunities and women gained 67,000 between 2002-2020.
Disparities in Experience
However, even when opportunities are equal, the experience between male and female athletes rarely is. For example, both male and female athletes have the same opportunity to play in a NCAA tournament in basketball. The two tournaments, however, are different experiences for the men’s and women’s team. An external review of gender equity in NCAA championships, commissioned by the NCAA and conducted by an outside law firm last summer, found an approximately $35 million spending gap between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in 2019–and unequal spending means unequal experiences. This gap between spending needs to be addressed by the NCAA and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. While there are no laws or bylaws regulating the spending amount based on gender, athletic departments need to make sure they distribute their resources equitably across genders.
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* Originally published on March 22, 2023, by Ryan Wiley