by Neena Chaudhry

Thirty five years after Title IX was passed, women’s participation in college sports still lags far behind men’s, and contrary to what some Title IX opponents would have you believe, men’s overall participation has not suffered but rather has continued to increase.  These are two of the key findings of a comprehensive study of colleges over the past 10 years released yesterday by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

The study finds that even though women are close to 55% of the undergraduate students at colleges, they receive only about 41% of the opportunities to play sports.  In addition, while the number of women’s teams grew substantially in the late 1990s, this growth slowed quite a bit in the early 2000s, with only about one quarter of schools adding a women’s team between 2001 and 2005, as compared to 66% of schools adding a women’s team between 1995 and 2001.

Men’s overall participation has also increased: between 2001 and 2005, male participation grew by about 10,000 athletes, roughly the same amount as female participation grew during this time (11,000 athletes).  Some men’s sports experienced substantial declines in participation (volleyball, tennis, wrestling), as did some women’s sports, but other men’s sports grew by much larger amounts (football, baseball, lacrosse and soccer).

So what’s the bottom line?

First, Title IX needs to be enforced more vigorously, not weakened as the current Administration has done, to ensure that women are receiving equal opportunities to play sports.

Second, instead of attacking Title IX, groups concerned about the dropping of some men’s teams (such as the College Sports Council and Independent Women’s Forum) should focus on Division I-A schools—the only subset  that experienced a net decline in men’s participation levels.  Not surprisingly, Division I-A institutions are also the ones that spend the most on sports, run huge annual deficits, and have bloated football and basketball budgets that eat up ¾ of the men’s total athletic budget, leaving very little for all other men’s sports.  These groups’ mission, should they choose to accept it, is to work together with Title IX advocates to curb the “arms race” in athletic spending.  Then maybe we can really achieve a level playing field.