Before 1972, there was only one women’s Division I sport at Penn.
Then came Title IX.
Before President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law 41 years ago, the women’s basketball team had concluded its second season at Penn.
On a national scale, the number of female athletes in high schools and colleges in the U.S. has increased by 988 percent, going from 310,000 to 3,373,000 since Title IX.
But at Penn, the stats on gender equity in athletics aren’t all so positive.
Penn has the worst proportionality of male to female athletes in the Ivy League, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics database.
Though the student body is 49 percent male and 51 percent female, 63 percent of athletes at Penn are male, while 37 percent are female.
This is a 14 percent gap in proportionality, far more than the five percent gap which Title IX requires for a school to be considered proportional. Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky partly blames the school’s subpar proportionality on its males-only sprint football program.
“We’re one of the three Ivy schools that has sprint football,” Bilsky said. “We’ve had it for 100 years, so to eliminate it seems not to be fair.”
The complaint that complying fully with Title IX could eliminate or reduce spending from male sports is as old as the law itself.
Dr. Ellen Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University who studies gender equity in sports and Title IX pay equity and equal employment opportunity, notes that this long-standing fear is unfounded.
“In 1971, people said Title IX would destroy football as we know it,” she said. “When you look at the explosion of big time football since then, these are unfounded fears.”
Staurowsky noted that larger revenue sports such as football and basketball are financially limiting smaller men’s programs. Those men’s programs should seek to create an alliance with women’s sports, instead of their blaming reduced funds on the expansion of female sports.
And Staurowsky’s right.
Even when you take into account the athletes that participate in sprint football, of which there are 51 students currently on the roster, that would still be a 12.5 percent gap in proportionality between male and female athletes.
So Penn still has a greater gender imbalance than Cornell and Princeton, even when including those schools’ sprint football athletes.
But although Penn does not meet the gender proportionality, it is still not in violation of Title IX. To be in compliance with the law, a school has to comply with only one of three aspects: proportionality within five percent of the student body, program expansion and interests and abilities.
Penn Athletics does address interest and expands programs through monetary investment. As Bilsky noted, “The per capita expense for women is higher than the per capita expense for men. That wouldn’t have existed years ago.”
But this is most likely because there are fewer women athletes.
Penn’s admissions office also sends out surveys to address Title IX’s interest requirement, Bilsky said. “Our admissions office sends out surveys every couple of years so we ask the question, ‘Are there other sports you’d like to play at the varsity level that is not offered by Penn?’ And then two, we would test…Are they good enough to play Division I sports?”
Still, Staurowsky sees Penn’s proportionality gap as an “area of vulnerability.”
“The idea that somehow there isn’t interest may be true on individual campuses,” she said. “But we need more explanation as to what they mean when they say they don’t have interest.”
Penn also has the second widest gap behind Yale between the average annual salary of head coaches of female teams and average annual salary of head coaches of male teams, at $38,671.
“Even when we adjust for major salaries of big-time football coaches in terms of spending, the wage gap for some coaches of women’s and men’s team is the same [pay]gap that existed in the 1960s,” Staurowksky said.
“In terms of the law, we’re compliance in the law,” Bilsky said.
But the school’s proportionality statistics are too far behind the rest of the Ivy League’s to be ignored, and they can be easily remedied in the future, however distant it may be. Pushing robust club programs like women’s rugby toward varsity status when feasible and striving for greater equality in pay between coaches of men’s and women’s programs areimperative coures of action 41 years after Title IX was implemented.
If Penn is to give female athletes and coaches even greater opportunities than the first 40 years of Title IX have provided, it’ll take more than continual assessment of women’s interest as defined by the law. Proportionality needs to be top priority going now.
Because even if women athletes here are largely satisfied with their experience in Penn Athletics, it’s always good to bring more to the table.
BRETTE TROST is a senior English major from New York, N.Y. She can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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