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We begin with a narrative about the vast inequalities between the 2021 women’s and men’s college basketball championships (sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association). These disparate events exemplify systemic inequalities across college athletics that we document with data showing sex-based disparities in participation, resource allocation, and leadership. We introduce a critical perspective on Title IX – the celebrated 1972 U.S. sex nondiscrimination law – arguing that aspects of institutions employed under nondiscrimination policy can nevertheless undermine the quest for equality. We outline a set of policy proposals to address gender inequalities. These include more aggressive enforcement of Title IX, policies to ensure equal resource allocation and protections for women student-athletes, and initiatives to increase opportunities for women’s industry leadership. We then theorize three routes to policy change – from the bottom up, top down, and outside in – as well as the institutional hurdles that stand in the way of change. Throughout this discussion, we make a concerted effort to highlight how sex segregation, inadequate representation, androcentric organizational culture, and market demands are hurdles faced not just by those seeking equality in athletics but by other marginalized groups as well.
A final possible path for change is from outside the system – that is, from the public and/or consumers of college sports advocating from the outside in. We theorize that fans will be less supportive of gender equity initiatives than the general public, given their investment in the product and the overwhelming media bias that places higher value on and coverage of men’s sports. We also predict those men who participated in formalized sports in high school will be more inured to gender inequalities and less supportive of aggressive change – a downstream socialization effect from participating in a sex-segregated system. We find strong support for our hypotheses, using a novel measure of fandom. We also find that parents with daughters who play sports express greater support for gender equity initiatives; however, this effect is dwarfed by the fandom and enduring high school sports dynamics. This shows barriers to change from the marketplace and the enduring impacts of sex-segregated institutions preventing change from the outside in.
We assess how change to gender equality might be achieved from the top down. Policymakers in the context of college sports are athletic department administrators. They can directly affect policy via the NCAA rulemaking committees and must implement policy at individual schools. We also explore the role of coaches; while they have less direct policy control, they still make hiring decisions within their team staffs and serve as important intermediaries between student-athletes and administrators. We build on work on organizational culture to predict that as women move into higher leadership roles (i.e., head coach or administrative department head), they become less supportive of gender equity initiatives. We show that is indeed the case; moreover, we find that, more generally, female coaches and athletic administrators exhibit less support for equity initiatives than female student-athletes. This suggests that organizational culture – where women administrators and coaches remain in the clear minority – is a hurdle to equality. It shows that marginalized groups pursuing change from the top down must contend with organizational cultures that are at odds with such transformation.
Much has changed in the fifty years since the passage of Title IX. Although opportunities for women have shifted from wholesale exclusion, full equality remains unrealized. Our findings reveal a series of institutional barriers, many of which are baked into the structure of college sports. Sex segregation, intransigent androcentric culture, and lackluster market demands impede women’s progress. This concluding chapter includes discussion of steps that could be taken to move toward improving equality, addressing the hurdles, and making inroads on the way to major policy shifts. We also consider the implications of our findings for understanding the possibilities for using policy to address the concerns of marginalized groups more generally. We discuss the ways in which addressing these concerns will also benefit inclusion for transgender and gender-diverse athletes. Institutional context and embedded hierarchies of power can constrain such groups’ possibilities in their quest toward equality and inclusion.
This chapter focuses on the possibilities for pursuing change toward gender equity policy from the bottom up. Women are targeted beneficiaries of the gender equity initiatives (and therefore we expect their support to be relatively high); however, they comprise only 43 percent of student-athletes. Stronger majority coalitions thus require obtaining the support of male student-athletes. We theorize one route to coalitions via interpersonal contact. We build on the enormous extant literature on contact to identify conditions under which male student-athletes may become more supportive of policies for marginalized female student-athletes. These include when men understand the plight of the marginalized group (women) and when they trust the policymaking institutions (colleges and the NCAA). We argue that interpersonal contact is a mechanism by which the first condition is met. We provide clear evidence for our predictions with observational and experimental data. However, we also find that the sex-segregated institutions of college sports prevent significant contact between women and men, thereby vitiating the likelihood of such a coalition emerging to pursue change from the bottom up.
We offer details of our empirical approach. Our method involved multiple distinct representative surveys of key college athletic stakeholders (i.e., student-athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, and the American public including nonfans and fans). Our surveys measure opinions on a set of gender equity policy proposals (e.g., equal spending, requiring schools to interview at least one woman for athletic director jobs, etc.). We also include an exercise that requires respondents to confront inevitable policy tradeoffs. Respondents are asked to allocate a fixed budget to fund gender equity initiatives or benefit initiatives (e.g., paying college student-athletes versus guaranteed scholarships). Our measures allow us to explore the empirical evidence for our argument while making generalizable statements about the relevant stakeholders. The chapter provides details of our measurement approach and samples, as well as how we connect our theory to our analyses. Our data allow us to excavate important dynamics within and across group that have interests in college athletics.
The year 1972 is often hailed as an inflection point in the evolution of women's rights. Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that outlawed sex-based discrimination in education. Many Americans celebrate Title IX for having ushered in an era of expanded opportunity for women's athletics; yet fifty years after its passage, sex-based inequalities in college athletics remain the reality. Equality Unfulfilled explains why. The book identifies institutional roadblocks – including sex-based segregation, androcentric organizational cultures, and overbearing market incentives – that undermine efforts to achieve systemic change. Drawing on surveys with student-athletes, athletic administrators, college coaches, members of the public, and fans of college sports, it highlights how institutions shape attitudes toward gender equity policy. It offers novel lessons not only for those interested in college sports but for everyone seeking to understand the barriers that any marginalized group faces in their quest for equality.
A central function of democratic institutions is to protect vulnerable populations. The stability and success of these institutions depends, in part, on popular support. Times of crisis can introduce novel dynamics that alter popular support for protective institutions, particularly among those who do not benefit from those protections. We explore this possibility in the context of Title IX's gender equality requirements and infrastructure to address sexual harassment in college sports. We conduct a large survey of college student-athletes to study their attitudes on these issues in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and concomitant financial challenges affecting college sports. We find that male student-athletes and those with sexist attitudes exhibit alarmingly low levels of support for ensuring the maintenance of equality and sexual harassment policy under Title IX during the COVID-19 crisis and eventual recovery. The results accentuate the vulnerability of certain populations during crises and the importance of maintaining strong institutional policy support during such times.
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