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CRS — Title IX, Sex Discrimination, and Intercollegiate Athletics: A Legal Overview

January 31, 2013

Title IX, Sex Discrimination, and Intercollegiate Athletics: A Legal Overview (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Enacted four decades ago, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities. Although the Title IX regulations bar recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex in a wide range of educational programs or activities, such as student admissions, scholarships, and access to courses, the statute is perhaps best known for prohibiting sex discrimination in intercollegiate athletics.

Indeed, the provisions regarding athletics have proved to be one of the more controversial aspects of Title IX. At the center of the debate is a three-part test that the Department of Education (ED) uses to determine whether institutions are providing nondiscriminatory athletic participation opportunities for both male and female students. Proponents of the existing regulations point to the dramatic increases in the number of female athletes in elementary and secondary school, college, and beyond as the ultimate indicator of the statute’s success in breaking down barriers against women in sports. In contrast, opponents contend that the Title IX regulations unfairly impose quotas on collegiate sports and force universities to cut men’s teams in order to remain in compliance. Critics further argue that the decline in certain men’s sports, such as wrestling, is a direct result of Title IX’s emphasis on proportionality in men’s and women’s college sports.

In 2002, ED appointed a commission to study Title IX and to recommend whether or not the athletics provisions should be revised. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics delivered its final report to the Secretary of Education in 2003. In response, ED issued new guidance in 2003 and 2005 that clarified Title IX policy and the use of the three-part test. The 2005 guidance, however, was withdrawn in 2010.

This CRS report provides an overview of Title IX in general and the intercollegiate athletics regulations in particular, as well as a summary of the commission’s report and ED’s response and a discussion of legal challenges to the regulations and to the three-part test. For related reports, see CRS Report RS22544, Title IX and Single Sex Education: A Legal Analysis, by Jody Feder.

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