Val Ackerman was one of the first female athletes to receive a scholarship to play on the University of Virginia women’s basketball team in 1977 – and she shared it with another player.
Ackerman, who became the program’s first 1,000-point career scorer, went on to become the founding president of the Women’s National Basketball Association in 1996.
Her story is just one example of how the federal non-discrimination regulation known as Title IX expanded sports opportunities for girls and women, who joined sports teams in droves. Now, “playing like a girl” has lost its negative connotation, but nearly 45 years later, what is the lasting impact?
UVA Today posed that question to Bonnie Hagerman, a lecturer and director of undergraduate programs in the Women, Gender and Sexuality program who has taught “Women, Gender, and Sport: A History of American Female Athletes” on Grounds since 2008. Currently working on a book version of her Ph.D. dissertation, “Skimpy Coverage: Female Athletes in Sports Illustrated, 1954 to the Present,” Hagerman was one of several speakers commenting on a current exhibit at UVA, “Victorious Secret: Noticing Elite Sports for Women, 300 AD,” by artist Angela Lorenz (who will give a talk Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. in Campbell Hall, room 158).
Q. Why did Title IX come about?
A. Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972; taken as a whole, it was designed to do for education what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had done for the workplace more broadly – to end discrimination. Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 never expressly forbade discrimination in education, Congress passed the 1972 act to address education specifically.
Q. How did it impact equity in college athletics?
A. Interestingly enough, the 37-word statement that comprises Title IX doesn’t mention sports specifically, but one could argue that the most visible progress was seen in athletics, particularly at the high school and collegiate levels, where participation soared. Participation rates for high school female athletes have increased by some 940 percent, while there has been a more than 400 percent increase for collegiate sportswomen. In addition to more females playing sports at the high school and collegiate levels, women also enjoyed access to equitable facilities, scholarships, coaching, uniforms and travel opportunities.
Equity is an important word. Title IX does not mandate equality in terms of awarding the same amount of money to the men’s football team at a school as it does for the women’s tennis team; the needs for both of those teams are different, and Title IX allows for those differences, even as it requires that the women’s tennis team enjoys the same access to coaching, facilities and practice time that the men’s team enjoys. Recently, I enjoyed a tour of the UVA men’s basketball facility at JPJ, and I was told that Coach Tony Bennett’s office was a mirror image of Coach Joanne Boyle’s office, and that the men’s and women’s locker rooms were the same, and that they had similar access to training rooms, practice facilities and so on. That is Title IX in action.
Q. How does it enrich athletics and create opportunities for women?
A. Because football, both at the high school and the collegiate level, garners so many roster spots, it means that to offset such an imbalance, there are more sports opportunities for females to pursue than ever before. The sporting experience becomes more diverse for females – girls can participate in field hockey and basketball as they have for years, but in crew and rugby as well. And it becomes more diverse overall, as students can enjoy watching both men and women play, and have respect for both of their games.
As more and more females take advantage of such sporting opportunities, this in turn has created well-known sports stars – and Olympians – like UVA’s own Dawn Staley and Morgan Brian, and has also translated into a bigger pool from which to staff professional leagues like the Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Women’s Soccer League.
Q. Now that it’s almost 45 years old, what has it accomplished?
A. Well, the biggest accomplishment is simply the rate at which females are participating in sports at both the collegiate and high school levels. R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter found in “Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal, National Study,” that in 1970, two years before Congress passed Title IX, NCAA schools averaged 2.5 varsity women’s sports. By 2012, Division I, II and III NCAA schools averaged 8.73 women’s sports. UVA’s athletic department exceeds that average by funding 12 varsity sports for women, including soccer, basketball, tennis and crew.
Title IX has also allowed advocates of women’s sports a means with which to pressure schools to comply. The ultimate penalty for a failure to comply with Title IX is that schools would be deprived of their federal funding. While this hasn’t happened, schools have had to face lawsuits and have had to make changes to their programs to be in compliance. In 2013, for example, Quinnipiac University was found guilty of a number of Title IX violations and agreed to an extensive plan of action that included additional scholarships and coaching positions, as well as higher salaries for the coaches of women’s teams and improved athletic facilities.
What’s probably most important is the expectation among female athletes that they deserve equitable treatment, and that they should be treated as equal members of the sporting community – as athletes, coaches and administrators. In addition, where equity and equality are lacking, we see increased numbers of women pressing their schools to comply fully with Title IX, often through legal recourse.
Q. What else do you think people need to know about Title IX?
A. What I often hear about Title IX is that it forces schools to comply with a quota system and that schools have to pass a three-part test.
Schools must comply with Title IX guidelines by satisfying one of three prongs: meeting demand of the underrepresented sex (which in the case of all-women’s schools going co-ed would be men), having a history of adding sports for the underrepresented sex, and having athletic participation rates that are proportional to the student body. The last option is the most difficult to achieve and schools rarely opt to use it as a way to comply with Title IX.
Ultimately the first choice, meeting demand, would be the goal to satisfy the interest of all women – who represent the overwhelming majority of “the underrepresented sex” – who are interested in participating in sport.
Q. What remains to be accomplished?
A. Like any other law, Title IX is only as good as its enforcement, and the Quinnipiac case proves that Title IX is still needed to make sure that the goal of sport equity for females becomes a reality.
In addition, there have been several studies to show that sportswomen, female coaches and athletic administrators of color do not enjoy the benefits of Title IX to the same degree as their white female counterparts. At a time when intersectionality is gaining greater recognition, this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.