While there is much to celebrate about the 50th anniversary of Title IX, there is much more work to do as the majority of colleges and universities are still not in Title IX compliance. At last week’s Sports Business Journal Game Changers conference, moderator Shira Springer spoke with Danette Leighton, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation; Ann Meyers Drysdale, vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury; and Carla Williams, athletic director at the University of Virginia.
In 1972, about 30,000 women played college sports. Today, that number is approximately 220,000, a 545% increase. At the high school level, the increase is 990%. As great as that sounds, Leighton noted that girls’ high school participation today is where boys were in 1972.
Williams is the first African American woman to lead an athletic department in a Power 5 conference. “It’s an incredible honor and privilege to be at the University of Virginia and serve our student-athletes, but…I was appointed in 2017, and five years later there are three of us. You would think, well that’s progress, but it’s incredibly slow,” she said.
At the collegiate level, presidents and chancellors hire athletic directors, said Williams. The decision makers must set aside gender and race and look at qualifications, which would lead to a lot more women being in these positions. “The change needs to happen at the decision-making level,” she said.
“We live in a white man’s world; it’s changing, but it hasn’t changed,” said Meyers Drysdale, the first woman to get a full athletic scholarship at UCLA. “For me, Title IX is a law that you need to be concerned about. … You’re still going to have to fight for it.”
With that in mind, Springer asked Williams her greatest areas of concern. “There are court cases in the system right now that threaten the gains we have made,” said Williams. “It’s so important to remain vigilant.”
Springer asked how to bring schools, which also includes K–12, into compliance. “You can’t legislate morality,” said Williams, who brought four student-athletes with her to Game Changers. “Leaders have to care. If you don’t care about equity, then it won’t be a focal point and you won’t lead that way.
“To care, you have to see your female student-athletes, staff members, associate athletic directors, head coaches,” she added. “You have to see them in order to make decisions based on equity. … The next generation of leaders—men and women—are going to have to really be active to make sure that we don’t go backwards in those gains.”