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July 30, 2012 10:00 AM The Unintended Consequences of Title IX

By Daniel Luzer

The continued need for Title IX, the 1972 law that prevents gender-based discrimination, is perhaps debatable at the college level. The law dates from a time when women made up a little more than 40 percent of college students. Today they represent about 56 percent of students. Women, in fact, have been the majority on college campuses since 1978.

But women still tend to be underrepresented in college athletics. Title IX has made its most important impact in this area. There were less than 17,000 women playing college sports in 1972. Today there are more than 200,000 of them. This might be a measure of the law’s success.

Except that women aren’t exactly dominating the ranks of college coaches. Indeed, Title IX might have pushed them out of the profession. According to an opinion piece by Megan Greenwell in the Washington Post:

Female coaches have become a casualty of the same law that provided such huge benefits to female athletes. In 1972, more than 90 percent of the people coaching women’s teams were women. Today, that number is 43 percent, according to data compiled by two retired Brooklyn College professors who have tracked the number of female college athletes and coaches in the United States since Title IX became law.

Why has this happened? Well it might be that by improving the status of women’s athletics, the profession became attractive for men. Greenwell:

The explanation for the downward trend is as simple as it is discouraging. By legitimizing women’s sports, Title IX bestowed a new level of respect — and significantly higher salaries — on college coaching jobs, transforming them from passion projects for the most dedicated women’s sports advocates to serious career paths.

Since 2000, Greenwell explains, colleges have hired men for two-thirds of coaching jobs for women’s sports.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. If colleges think male coaches are the best people for the job, well, that’s really all that matters.

Still, there’s something a little disturbing about all this. Part of the reason for Title IX, after all, was to help address past discrimination and provide women with better opportunities to succeed in college and beyond.

All of these college athletes might now have more opportunity to play prestigious sports in college, but the career opportunities beyond that appear to have narrowed somewhat. Where do you think female coaches come from, anyway? They’re mostly former athletes.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer