Q & A—Secretary's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics
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What is Title IX?

Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX states "No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

How does Title IX apply to intercollegiate athletics?

Title IX, in relevant part, prohibits all public and private colleges and universities that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex in their intercollegiate athletics programs. Since most colleges and universities receive federal funds—most commonly through financial aid to students-nearly all must comply with Title IX.

Does Title IX apply only to athletics?

No. It also applies to all aspects of education, including admissions, recruitment, course offerings, counseling and counseling materials, financial assistance, student health, insurance benefits, housing, marital and parental status of students, harassment, physical education and athletics, education programs and activities, and employment.

Who is responsible for enforcing Title IX?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education is responsible for enforcing Title IX as it applies to educational institutions that are recipients of federal funds. OCR maintains 12 enforcement offices throughout the nation and a headquarters office in Washington, D.C.

What does it take for colleges and university athletic programs to comply with Title IX?

The regulations, issued in 1975, require that if a recipient institution operates or sponsors an athletic program, it must provide equal athletic opportunities for members of both sexes. The regulations provide a non-exhaustive list of factors to measure equal athletic opportunity, including whether an institution's selection of sports effectively accommodates the interests and abilities of students of both sexes to the extent necessary to provide equal athletic opportunity.

What is the Three-Part Test?

The "three-part test" refers to a portion of the Department's Policy Interpretation, issued in 1979, that provides guidance on the application of Title IX to athletics. It sets forth three options to determine whether an institution's intercollegiate athletic program provides nondiscriminatory participation opportunities for male and female athletes. A school may demonstrate compliance by meeting any one of the three parts:

  1. Whether the institution provides opportunities for participation in intercollegiate sports for male and female students in numbers that are substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments; or
  2. Whether the institution can show a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is demonstrably responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the members of the sex that is underrepresented among intercollegiate athletes; or
  3. Whether the institution can show that the interests and abilities of the members of that sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program.

What is the lawsuit filed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and others against the Department of Education about?

In January 2002, the National Wrestling Coaches Association sued the Department of Education alleging, in part, that the Department's 1979 Policy Interpretation and its Three-Part Test and the 1996 Letter of Clarification unlawfully altered the way it interpreted Title IX rules, without going through the regulatory process. They also charged that this allegedly improper rulemaking and its enforcement have led to the discriminatory elimination of hundreds of men's athletic programs, costing student-athletes both scholarships and the opportunity to compete. The Department has moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the court does not have jurisdiction to consider the case.

What is the 1996 "Letter of Clarification"?

On January 16, 1996, the Department issued to American colleges and universities the "Clarification of Intercollegiate Athletics Policy Interpretation: The Three-Part Test" to respond to requests for specific guidance, including examples, regarding the existing standards for measuring nondiscriminatory participation opportunities.

How many Title IX athletics cases regarding the three-part test is OCR currently handling?

As of June 7, 2002, OCR was monitoring 111 intercollegiate and interscholastic cases that involved the three-part test.

Why is the Secretary of Education forming a Commission?

The Secretary's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics will allow the issues surrounding the enforcement of Title IX to be carefully reviewed and debated in a fair and public manner.

How were the members of the Commission selected?

The Commission will be composed of 15 members appointed by the Secretary from the public and private sectors, as well as up to 3 ex officio members from the Department of Education.. The members of the Commission were selected to create a balanced representation of a wide range of interests and perspectives relating to men's and women's athletics. The members include representatives of the academic, athletic, government, and research communities and other persons with special expertise in intercollegiate and secondary school athletics or issues of equal educational opportunity.

What are the commissioners charged with doing?

The Commission's charge will be to submit a report to Secretary Paige not later than January 31, 2003 that addresses the availability of athletic opportunities at the secondary school and college levels. Its focus will include, but not be limited to, Title IX's standards for assessing equal opportunity in athletics. Questions that the Commission will address include:

  1. Are Title IX standards for assessing equal opportunity in athletics working to promote opportunities for male and female athletes?
  2. Is there adequate Title IX guidance that enables colleges and school districts to know what is expected of them and to plan for an athletic program that effectively meets the needs and interests of their students?
  3. Is further guidance or other steps needed at the junior and senior high school levels, where the availability or absence of opportunities will critically affect the prospective interests and abilities of student athletes when they reach college age?
  4. How should activities such as cheerleading or bowling factor into the analysis of equitable opportunities?
  5. How do revenue producing and large-roster teams affect the provision of equal athletic opportunities? The Department has heard from some parties that whereas some men athletes will "walk-on" to intercollegiate teams—without athletic financial aid and without having been recruited-women rarely do this. Is this accurate and, if so, what are its implications for Title IX analysis?
  6. In what ways do opportunities in other sports venues, such as the Olympics, professional leagues, and community recreation programs, interact with the obligations of colleges and school districts to provide equal athletic opportunity? What are the implications for Title IX?
  7. Apart from Title IX enforcement, are there other efforts to promote athletic opportunities for male and female students that the Department might support, such as public-private partnerships to support the efforts of schools and colleges in this area?

Isn't this commission just a way for the Administration to roll back the rights of female athletes because a few men are complaining that their programs have been cut?

No. For at least a decade schools have requested additional guidance on how to assess the interest and abilities of their students. The Commission may choose to identify, among other things, methods that can be used to assess the interest and abilities of students. The Department seeks an approach that allows schools to structure their athletics programs to meet the needs and goals of the school and its students, in a nondiscriminatory manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.

Does Title IX benefit only girls and women?

Title IX protects everyone-girls and boys, women and men. The law requires educational institutions to maintain policies, practices and programs that do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex. Elimination of discrimination against women and girls has received more attention because females historically have faced greater gender restrictions and barriers in education. However, Title IX also protects men and boys. A continued effort to prevent or stop discrimination on the basis of sex has benefited all students by moving toward the creation of school environments where all students may learn and achieve the highest standards.

Does Title IX require identical athletics programs for males and females?

Title IX does not require identical athletics programs for males and females. Under Title IX, one team is not compared to the same team in each sport. OCR examines the total program afforded to male student-athletes and the total program afforded to female student-athletes and determines whether each program meets the standards of equal treatment. Title IX does not require that each team receive exactly the same services and supplies. Rather, Title IX requires that the men and women's program receive the similar/comparable level of service, facilities, supplies and etc. Variations within the men and women's program are allowed, as long as the variations are justified on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Are revenue-producing sports excluded from Title IX?


Does Title IX apply to high school sports as well?

Yes. Title IX does apply to high school athletics. Although any proposed revisions would be designed for intercollegiate athletics, their general principles may apply, as appropriate, to club, intramural, and interscholastic athletic programs.

Does the Department's current interpretation decrease athletics opportunities for men without a corresponding benefit to women?

Some critics of Title IX have made this allegation. The Commission will consider this allegation, as well as allegations that Title IX has not been sufficiently enforced to ensure equal opportunity for women. It will conduct that inquiry in generally public meetings in which a variety of interested voices can be heard.

Does the Department intend to make changes to the athletics Title IX interpretations?

The Department has not decided whether to make any changes to any part of the Title IX athletics interpretations. Secretary Paige will review the recommendations of the Commission very carefully before making any decisions on how to proceed.

What does this mean for schools while the Commission reviews this issue?

The Office for Civil Rights will continue to apply its current legal standards while the Commission performs its review.

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Last Modified: 03/06/2007