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Letter to Chief State School Officers, Title IX Obligations in Athletics

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights


Chief State School Officers FR

Elimination of sex discrimination in athletic programs sept. 1975 Memo to Chief State School Officers, LEA Superintendents, and PSE Presidents on Title IX obligations in athletics, including athletic scholarships; intercollegiate, club, and intramural programs. Cheerleading and drill teams are covered by extracurricular activities provision of Title IX. Physical education and health classes are covered by instructional programs provisions. Required first year activities are obsolete except for institutions covered by Title IX for the first time. Should be read in conjunction with 1979 intercollegiate athletics policy interpretation.

Doc. No. 00036 DATE: November 11, 1975

Typed From Original Copy


September 1975

TO : Chief State School Officers, Superintendents of Local Educational Agencies and College and University Presidents

FROM : Director, Office for Civil Rights

SUBJECT: Elimination of Sex Discrimination in Athletic Programs

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Departmental Regulation (45 CFR Part 86) promulgated thereunder prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in the operation of most federally-assisted education programs. The regulation became effective on July 21, 1975.

During the forty-five day period immediately following approval by the President and publication of the regulation on June 4, 1975, concerns were raised about the immediate obligations of educational institutions to comply with certain sections of the Departmental Regulation as they relate to athletic programs. These concerns, in part, focus on the application of the adjustment period provision (86.41 (d)) to the various non-discrimination requirements, and additionally, on how educational institutions can carry out the self-evaluation requirement (86.3(c)).

This memorandum provides guidance with respect to the major first year responsibilities of an educational institution to ensure equal opportunity in the operation of both its athletic activities and its athletic scholarship programs. Practical experience derived from actual on-site compliance reviews and the concomitant development of greater governmental expertise on the application of the Regulation to athletic activities may, of course, result in further or revised guidance being issued in the future. Thus, as affected institutions proceed to conform their programs with the Department's regulation, they and other interested persons are encouraged to review carefully the operation of these guidelines and to provide the Department with the benefit of their views.

Basic Requirements

There are two major substantive provisions of the regulation which define the basic responsibility of educational institutions to provide equal opportunity to members of both sexes interested in participating in the athletics programs institutions offer.

Section 86.41 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the operation of any interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletic program offered by an educational institution. Section 86.37(c) sets forth requirements for ensuring equal opportunity in the provision of athletic scholarships.

These sections apply to each segment of the athletic program of a federally assisted educational institution whether or not that segment is the subject of direct financial support through the Department. Thus, the fact that a particular segment of an athletic program is supported by funds received from various other sources (such as student fees, general revenues, gate receipts, alumni donations, booster clubs, and non-profit foundations) does not remove it from the reach of the statute and hence of the regulatory requirements. However, drill teams, cheerleaders and the like, which are covered more generally as extracurricular activities under section 86.31, and instructional offerings such as physical education and health classes, which are covered under section 86.34, are not a part of the institution's "athletic program" within the meaning of the regulation.

Section 86.41 does not address the administrative structure(s) which are used by educational institutions for athletic programs. Accordingly, institutions are not precluded form employing separate administrative structures for men's and women's sports (if separate teams exist) or a unitary structure. However, when educational institutions evaluate whether they are in compliance with the provisions of the regulation relating to non-discrimination in employment, they must carefully assess the effects on employees of both sexes of current and any proposed administrative structure and related coaching assignments. Changes in current administrative structure(s) or coaching assignments which have a disproportionately adverse effect on the employment opportunities of employees of one sex are prohibited by the regulation.

Self-Evaluation and Adjustment Periods

Section 86.3(c) generally requires that by July 21, 1976, educational institutions (1) carefully evaluate current policies and practices (including those related to the operation of athletic programs) in terms of compliance with those provisions and (2) where such policies or practices are inconsistent with the regulation, conform current policies and practices to the requirements of the regulation.

An institution's evaluation of its athletic program must include every area of the program covered by the regulation. All sports are to be included in this overall assessment, whether they are contact or non-contact sports.

With respect to athletic programs, section 86.41 (d) sets specific time limitations on the attainment of total conformity of institutional policies and practices with the requirements of the regulation up to one year for elementary schools and up to three years for all other educational institutions.

Because of the integral relationship of the provision relating to athletic scholarships and the provision relating to the operation of athletic programs, the adjustment periods for both are the same.

The adjustment period is not a waiting period. Institutions must begin now to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure full compliance as quickly as possible. Schools may design an approach for achieving full compliance tailored to their own circumstances; however, self-evaluation, as required by section 86.3 (c) is a very important step for every institution to assure compliance with the entire Title IX regulation, as well as with the athletics provisions.

Required First Year Actions

School districts, as well as colleges and universities, are obligated to perform a self-evaluation of their entire education program, including the athletics program, prior to July 21, 1976. School districts which offer interscholastic or intramural athletics at the elementary school level must immediately take significant steps to accommodate the interests and abilities of elementary school pupils of both sexes, including steps to eliminate obstacles to compliance such as inequities in the provision of equipment, scheduling and the assignment of coaches and other supervisory personnel. As indicated earlier, school districts must conform their total athletic program at the elementary level to the requirements of section 86.41 no later than July 21, 1976.

In order to comply with the various requirements of the regulation addressed to nondiscrimination in athletic programs, educational institutions operating athletic programs above the elementary level should:

(1) Compare the requirements of the regulation addressed to nondiscrimination in athletic programs and equal opportunity in the provision of athletic scholarships with current policies and practices;

(2) Determine the interests of both sexes in the sports to be offered by the institution and, where the sport is a contact sport or where participants are selected on the basis of competition, also determine the relative abilities of members of each sex for each such sport offered, in order to decide whether to have single sex teams or teams composed of both sexes. (Abilities might be determined through try-outs or by relying upon the

knowledge of athletic teaching staff, administrators and athletic conference and league representatives.)

(3) Develop a plan to accommodate effectively the interests and abilities of both sexes, which plan must be fully implemented as expeditiously as possible and in no event later than July 21, 1978. Although the plan need not be submitted to the Office for Civil Rights, institutions should consider publicizing such plans so as to gain the assistance of students, faculty, etc. in complying with them.

Assessment of Interests and Abilities

In determining student interests and abilities as described in (2) above, educational institutions as part of the self-evaluation process should draw the broadest possible base of information. An effort should be made to obtain the participation of all segments of the educational community affected by the athletics program, and any reasonable method adopted by an institution to obtain such participation will be acceptable.

Separate Teams

The second type of determination discussed in (2) above relates to the manner in which a given sports activity is to be offered. Contact sports and sports for which teams are chosen by competition may be offered either separately or on a unitary basis.

Contact sports are defined as football, basketball, boxing, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey and any other sport the purpose or major activity of which involves bodily contact. Such sports may be offered separately.

If by opening a team to both sexes in a contact sport an educational institution does not effectively accommodate the abilities of members of both sexes (see 86.41(c) (i)), separate teams in that sport will be required if both men and women express interest in the sport and the interests of both sexes are not otherwise accommodated. For example an institution would not be effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of women if it abolished all its women's teams and opened up its men's teams to women, but only a few women were able to quality for the men's teams.

Equal Opportunity

In the development of the total athletic program referred to in (3) above, educational institutions, in order to accommodate effectively the interests and abilities of both sexes, must ensure that equal opportunity exists in both the conduct of athletic programs and the provision of athletic scholarships.

Section 86.41(c) requires equal opportunity in athletic programs for men and women. Specific factors which should be used by an educational institution during its self-evaluative planning to determine whether equal opportunity exists in its plan for its total athletic program are:

- the nature and extent of the sports programs to be offered (including the levels of competition, such as varsity, club, etc.);

- the provision of equipment and supplies;

- the scheduling of games and practice time;

- the provision of travel and per diem allowances;

- the nature and extent of the opportunity to receive coaching and academic tutoring;

- the assignment and compensation of coaches and tutors;

- the provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities;

- the provision of medical and training facilities and services;

- the provision of housing and dining facilities and services;

- the nature and extent of publicity.

Overall Objective

The point of the regulation is not to be so inflexible as to require identical treatment in each of the matters listed under section 86.41(c). During the process of self-evaluation, institutions should examine all of the athletic opportunities for men and women and make a determination as to whether each has an equal opportunity to compete in athletics in a meaningful way. The equal opportunity emphasis in the regulation addresses the totality of the athletic program of the institution rather than each sport offered.

Educational institutions are not required to duplicate their men's program for women. The thrust of the effort should be on the contribution of each of the categories to the overall goal of equal opportunity in athletics rather than on the details related to each of the categories.

While the impact of expenditures for sex identifiable sports programs should be carefully considered in determining whether equal opportunity in athletics exists for both sexes, equal aggregate expenditures for male and female teams are not required. Rather, the pattern of expenditures should not result in a disparate effect on opportunity. Recipients must not discriminate on the basis of sex in the provision of necessary equipment, supplies, facilities, and publicity for sports programs. The fact that differences in expenditures may occur because of varying costs attributable to differences in equipment requirements and levels of spectator interest does not obviate in any way the responsibility of educational institutions to provide equal opportunity.

Athletic Scholarships

As part of the self-evaluation and planning process discussed above, educational institutions must also ensure that equal opportunity exists in the provision of athletic scholarships. Section 86.37(c) provides that "reasonable opportunities" for athletic scholarships should be "in proportion to the number of students of each sex participating in interscholastic or intercollegiate athletics."

Following the approach of permitting separate teams, section 86.37(c) of the regulation permits the overall allocation of athletic scholarships on the basis of sex. No such separate treatment is permitted for non-athletic scholarships.

The thrust of the athletic scholarship section is the concept of reasonableness, not strict proportionality in the allocation of scholarships. The degree of interest and participation of male and female students in athletics is the critical factor in determining whether the allocation of athletic scholarships conforms to the requirements of the regulation.

Neither quotas nor fixed percentages of any type are required under the regulation. Rather, the institution is required to take a reasonable approach in its award of athletic scholarships, considering the participation and relative interests and athletic proficiency of its student of both sexes.

Institutions should assess whether male and female athletes in sports at comparable levels of competition are afforded approximately the same opportunities to obtain scholarships. Where the sports offered or the levels of competition differ for male and female students, the institution should assess its athletic scholarship program to determine whether overall opportunities to receive athletic scholarships are roughly proportionate to the number of students of each sex participating in intercollegiate athletics.

If an educational institution decides not to make an overall proportionate allocation of athletic scholarships on the basis of sex, and thus, decides to award such scholarships by other means such as applying general standards to applicants of both sexes, institutions should determine whether the standards used to award scholarships are neutral, i.e. based on criteria which do not inherently disadvantage members of either sex. There are a number of "neutral" standards which might be used including financial need, athletic proficiency or a combination of both. For example, an institution may wish to award its athletic scholarships to all applicants on the basis of need after a determination of a certain level of athletic proficiency. This would be permissible even if it results in a pattern of award which differs from the relative levels of interests or participation of men and women students so long as the initial determination of athletic proficiency is based on neutral standards. However, if such standards are not neutral in substance or in application then different standards would have to be developed and the use of the discriminatory standard discontinued. For example, when "ability" is used as a basis for scholarship award and the range of ability in a particular sport, at the time, differs widely between the sexes, separate norms must be developed for each sex.

Availability of Assistance

We in the Office for Civil Rights will be pleased to do everything possible to assist school officials to meet their Title IX responsibilities. The names, addresses and telephone numbers of Regional Offices for Civil Rights are attached.


Peter E. Holmes

Last Modified: 06/29/2020