The NCAA and Western Michigan University have only one rule that governs the rules of gender equity in the world of college athletics—Title IX.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary nationally this year, Title IX in college athletics enacts a three-pronged method, according to the NCAA. This method includes providing equitable participation opportunities, providing athletics financial aid equal to participation and providing equitable benefits to participation.
Every NCAA school files a Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report. According to the 2010-11 EADA report, females make up roughly 49 percent of WMU’s undergraduate population, and of student athletes, 42 percent are female. Those numbers are way up from when Title IX was first introduced.
“Obviously it has created opportunities for our women,” said WMU Volleyball Head Coach Colleen Munson. “That’s the bonus of it, just the opportunities they might not have had years ago, and I don’t think [current female student athletes] know the magnitude of that because the women that have come before them have really laid the foundation for them to be able to do what they do today. Title IX is just a research title to them right now. It’s a law, [but] it’s just a word sometimes.”
WMU athletics and Munson have seen the effects of Title IX in women’s sports because the first wave of Michigan female student athletes who played their high school season at the same time as college sports were in season.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association lost a lawsuit, and consequently beginning back in 2007, had to change several sports seasons, with volleyball (moving to the fall) and women’s basketball (moving to the winter) seeing the brunt of the changes, as the high school sports season aligned with collegiate seasons.
For A.J. Johnson, a first-year student on the women’s basketball team at WMU, Title IX has special meaning. But Title IX does not necessarily have meaning for other teammates not from the state of Michigan.
“They don’t [know much about Title IX],” Johnson said. “There’s three other girls from Michigan, but as far as the other girls, I don’t even think they know what it is. I feel like they think that it has always been this way, and it’s college basketball and it’s just always ‘We get this.’ But knowing that Title IX happened and made it more equal, I’m more grateful.”
WMU Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard was hired in 1979 as the WMU women’s gymnastics coach thanks to a mandate that required a full-time gymnastics coach. Now as athletic director, Beauregard said she still faces challenges in meeting Title IX requirements.
Whatever the undergraduate population breakdown is at a federally funded college or university, that institution has “no choice” but to offer similar opportunities in athletics to that breakdown, Beauregard said.
“There are many people out there that will argue that’s almost impossible. That’s pretty much ridiculous because when you look at the sport of football, and you look at 105 to 10 student athletes in football and 85 football scholarships, many felt football should be removed from even being in the formula because there’s no women’s sport that has those numbers of participation,” Beauregard said.
But there are some interpretations of Title IX that Beauregard said she disagrees with.
“The thing that I have never totally agreed with is the Office of Civil Rights interpretation that if 50 percent of [your undergraduate population] are women, you have to have that many opportunities in sports,” Beauregard said. “Not every women who comes here as an undergraduate wants to be a varsity athlete. So it’s difficult for me to use that as a benchmark, but that’s really what the law says we have to do.”
Beauregard said the NCAA requires 16 school-sponsored varsity sports at the Division I level. WMU has 10 female sports and only six male sports, but this keeps participation numbers at the required ratio.
“That participation number sways on your campus, so now we’re down to about 50 percent women, 50 percent men, and we do hit the five percent ratio there to make sure the participation piece of Title IX we do meet,” Beauregard said.
Beauregard also has to balance the budget allocated to each program. Beauregard said WMU is different from other schools when it comes to the budget.
“When you look, we are unique,” Beauregard said. “Not only are we meeting the participation numbers, but we are probably one of the few in the country where honestly our men’s basketball budget and women’s basketball budget are the same.”
Men’s sports cost WMU almost twice as much to operate and generated just short of three times as much revenue as female sports, according to the 2010-11 EADA report.
Munson said that equal distribution is good idea, but unrealistic to a certain extent.
“You’re talking about theory versus reality,” Munson said. “Theory is obviously you’re going to spread the wealth. The reality is some sports just take a little bit more resources to be successful and to make it work.”
While up $217,332, WMU barely covered its expenses from the revenues generated in 2010-11, according to the EADA report. The report showed football generated $1 million in revenue, while other sports did not make enough money to cover their expenses.
Beauregard said Title IX has come at a cost as several non-revenue generating programs had to be cut to meet the NCAA ratio of male and female students, including a men’s track and field and cross-country team that had national exposure.
“There are many that would love to see us bring back our men’s track and field program, which was the worst decision we ever made here. It was honestly the most successful programs we’ve ever had. We had two national championships in cross-country. So dropping that sport at that time, it did what we needed to do from a budget perspective and it protected our numbers to equal things out,” Beauregard said.
However, some like WMU Women’s Tennis Coach Betsy Kuhle said whether the sport makes money for the university or not doesn’t matter.
“There is nothing in the law that discusses anything about whether an educational opportunity is provided that makes any kind of revenue,” Kuhle said. “What lights my fire is when people say women are responsible for men’s sports being dropped. That is not true. That’s absolutely a false statement.”
While Title IX has done a lot for women, Kuhle said the college or university’s administration determines how much Title IX is at the forefront of people’s minds.
“There’s still a lot of inequity for women in athletics,” Kuhle said. “I think at Western Michigan we are one school that is very serious about Title IX, and I think the equity is fantastic. I think here at Western we have a lot.”
Title IX changed the landscape of sports and personnel within college athletics. Title IX forced schools to hire full-time coaching position, and for WMU, the hiring of a full-time women’s gymnastics coach lead to Beauregard becoming the athletic director back in 1997.
“If it hadn’t been for Title IX,” Beauregard said. “I certainly would never be sitting in this seat today as a female in charge of the athletic department at the Division I level. I’ve lived [Title IX]; I’ve lived it a long time.”