Law That Leveled Playing Fields Turns 30

ByABC News via logo
June 20, 2002, 9:03 PM

June 23 -- It is just one sentence long, but Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 packed a wallop.

The legislation, which reaches its 30th anniversary today, made it suddenly illegal for any federally funded school to spend more on sports for boys than sports for girls.

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," the legislation said. Though its passage outlawed sex discrimination in education overall, it is mostly associated with athletics.

It was the first moment of a paradigm shift in sports, and it ended up being much more. Proponents of Title IX have called it is an empowering, positive step that gets young women in the game in high school and college athletics.

Critics have said the legislation hurts men's teams, arguing that the funding for what they believe is a "quota" of female athletes comes at the expense of male athletics.

Title IX Babies in Spotlight

Still, there is no disputing that the legislation has led to a surge in female athletics. When Title IX was born, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports. Now, 2.7 million high school girls lace up their sneakers for a variety of organized sports.

The number of female varsity athletes has shot up some 41 percent since then, with soccer seeing the biggest increase for both sexes.

Nothing epitomizes the arrival of Title IX's victory more than the 1999 Women's World Cup final, the year a women's sports championship galvanized the nation. The winning American team was composed entirely of Title IX babies, including soccer star Mia Hamm.

But professional sports are not the only playing field that Title IX has altered.

From Fields to Boardrooms

Ruth Ann Marshall, now the president of MasterCard for North America, remembers pre-Title IX days at her high school, when she was sidelined simply for being a girl.

"I would practice with the boys' tennis team, but when it came to a playing a match I had to sit on the sidelines even though I was a capable player," Marshall said. "But when I got to college, I was able to play competitively on the tennis team and on the basketball team because of Title IX."