Title IX is 50 years old. Why aren’t schools complying with the law?

UConn vs. South Carolina in the 2022 women's basketball national championship game
Getty Images

There are many reasons to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the positive impact it has had on women’s sports, and yet there are also plenty of ways the landmark legislation hasn’t yet met its full potential.

As we enter the next 50 years of Title IX, here are a few examples of how new policies and better enforcement of the law could lead to more equal playing fields across the United States.

Despite 50 years of Title IX, most schools aren’t in compliance with the law

The sports participation gender gap starts early, and it continues all the way through college.

According to a report from the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), just 60% of girls compete in high school sports compared to 75% of boys. In fact, girls today have fewer opportunities to participate in high school sports than boys did in 1972.

At the collegiate level, 86% of NCAA institutions aren’t offering opportunities proportional to their enrollment. While women account for nearly 60% of college students nationwide, they have just 43% of college sports opportunities. This has a significant economic impact, with women missing out on $252 million of athletic scholarships. Per year.

“There’s sort of this widespread acknowledgement, like, ‘Well, schools aren’t complying’ and, you know, we’re 50 years in. That’s not great,” says investigative journalist Rachel Axon, who worked on a USA Today series that examined how Title IX has fallen short.

At the University of North Carolina (UNC), for example, the athletic department would need to add nearly 400 women’s roster spots in order to reach proportionality with its student body enrollment. UNC told USA Today that it is in compliance with the law through “prong three” of Title IX, meaning it is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students.

“And we asked them… ‘What are your surveys telling you? Are you getting requests from club teams to be elevated?’ And they declined to answer our questions on that and just gave us a generic statement,” says Axon.

White women have disproportionately benefited from Title IX

Research from the Women’s Sports Foundation found that women of color are participating in sport at lower levels than white women.

At high schools where the majority of students are Black and/or Hispanic, girls receive 67% of the opportunities that are available to boys, according to WSF research. In comparison, at predominantly white high schools, girls have 82% of the opportunities that boys do. Women of color are also underrepresented in coaching and administrative positions, too.

The WSF recommended two policy changes to address these disparities: 1) that the Department of Education collect race-specific data on sports participation; and 2) that Congress pass the High School Data Transparency act, which would “require schools to publicly report information on the status of female and male athletes and students, broken down by race and ethnicity, as well as expenditures on each sponsored sports team.”

RELATED: Nine (or so) to know on the 50th anniversary of Title IX

Title IX has no proactive, systematic enforcement mechanism

The concept behind Title IX is that — if federally funded institutions do not comply with the law — their funding can be taken away.

And yet, in 50 years of Title IX, the Department of Education has never stripped an institution of all federal funding. Instead, Title IX has been primarily been enforced through Civil Rights complaints, lawsuits and media attention.

While the NCAA has come under fire for its unequal treatment of men’s and women’s tournaments, the non-profit organization — which receives most of its funding from television, marketing rights and ticket sales — isn’t actually subject to Title IX, even though nearly all of its member organizations are.

That said, the organization could certainly take a much stronger role in making sure the legislation is enforced. The NCAA previously led a gender equity review in the 1990s and 2000s to encourage greater compliance, but the program was suspended in 2011.

“It could be doing more if it wanted to. It doesn’t want to,” says Axon.

Title IX isn’t always inclusive of women with disabilities

While Title IX was meant to provide girls and women with equal opportunity, girls and women with disabilities have often been left behind.

This is something Tatyana McFadden experienced in 2005 as a freshman at Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, when she was prohibited from racing at the same time as her able-bodied track teammates.

“All I wanted to do was join high school track, but I was denied a uniform, I was denied (the opportunity) to race alongside others, and was practicing separately as well,” recalls McFadden. “I just thought, ‘We are in the 21st Century and I am 100% being discriminated against as a female athlete with a disability.”

McFadden filed suit against her school district — requesting equal competitive access — and won. This led to Maryland passing the Maryland Fitness and Athletes Equity for Students with Disabilities Act (also known as “Tatyana’s Law”), and in 2013, a U.S. Department of Education mandate.

And yet, women with disabilities still often have to fight for opportunities that are readily available to their able-bodied peers. Similar to Title IX itself, there is no proactive enforcement of the U.S. Department of Education mandate to ensure that students with disabilities are being given equitable opportunities.

RELATED: Scout Bassett hopes future collegiate para athletes have more opportunities

Fewer women are coaching women’s teams today than pre-Title IX

Before Title IX was passed in 1972, 90% of women’s collegiate teams were coached by women. These days, that number is closer to 41%. (And to be clear, that percentage refers to women coaching women’s teams; women are rarely considered for positions coaching men’s teams.)

This disparity continues to Olympic and professional leagues, where many women’s teams are currently being coached by men. At last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, just 21.1% of head coaches of Team USA were women, according to a Women’s Sports Foundation report.

In the name of ‘protecting’ women’s sports, transgender girls and women are under attack

Despite all of the tangible issues outlined above, 50 years after Title IX, nearly all current legislation about women’s sports is about excluding transgender women and girls, a group that is disproportionately affected by discrimination, harassment and deadly violence.

To put this in perspective: USA Today’s reporting found that six FBS universities in Ohio — Ohio State, Miami University, Ohio University, Bowling Green State, University of Toledo, and Kent State — are using loopholes and roster manipulation to make it look like they are closer to Title IX compliance than they actually are. By double- and triple- counting athletes, padding rowing rosters, and including male practice players, the six schools combined to inflate women’s rosters by 225 spots, all without adding any new women’s teams.

But rather than address this issue, Ohio House Republicans earlier this month passed a bill that not only bars transgender girls from playing sports, but also makes all girls subject to genital inspections. This is despite the fact that the Ohio High School Athletic Association said just five transgender athletes played school sports last year.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has recommended that the U.S. Department of Education “issue specific policy guidelines confirming that Title IX should be interpreted to provide opportunities to transgender and nonbinary students to participate in sports in a manner consistent with their gender identities” and for state policymakers to implement “inclusive policies for transgender and nonbinary athletes.”

Correction: A previous version of this story included the University of Akron as one of the Ohio schools that had padded roster numbers. It was actually Kent State. 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC