Surge of Title IX Cases in College Athletics and How Covid-19 is Not a Defense

By: Sophie Edbrooke

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the athletic departments and other activities of universities that receive federal funding.[1] One way that schools can measure their compliance with Title IX is to ensure that the gender percentage of their varsity athletes is in a near exact proportion to their student population.[2] For example, if the university is 65% male and 35% female, no one expects a 50/50 split in varsity athletics.

Title IX has been in existence since 1972, and even though it requires institutions to uphold equality, some schools have been in violation for decades — such as William and Mary.[3] Schools, like Dartmouth, have recently been found in violation of the rules in the wake of athletic cuts during COVID-19; however, when faced with the public outcry and student lawsuits, the school did not just reinstate the women’s teams, but also the men’s teams.[4]

In July 2020, Dartmouth cut women and men’s swimming and diving, women and men’s golf, and men’s lightweight rowing; the school believed this $2 million savings would aid with the $150 million deficit the school faced due to COVID-19.[5] In addition to these savings, Dartmouth stated that the percentage of women in athletics would be “virtually identical” to the percentage of the number of women in the undergraduate class, all but promising Title IX compliance.[6]

Prior to the team cuts, the women were represented 5% less in varsity sports than they were in the undergraduate class.[7] After the cuts, the women were still nearly 3% under-represented in varsity sports.[8] Since the women were still unfairly underrepresented, the women’s teams filed a Title IX suit against the university.[9]

What was most disturbing was the response to the lawsuit; instead of reinstating a women’s varsity team (either swimming and diving or golf), the school reinstated all five sports because “it seemed fair and appropriate to reinstate the men’s teams alongside the women’s teams.”[10]  Dartmouth fails to recognize instead of doing what is fair, the university actually put itself more out of compliance with Title IX.[11] However, appeasing students and alumni appears to be more important to universities than actual compliance.

Dartmouth is not the only university that has recently been under scrutiny for Title IX violations in varsity sports. However, when faced with similar COVID-19 budget savings cuts, other schools such as Eastern Carolina University and Iowa reinstated women’s sports or prevented their dissolution.[12]

For the schools that are not ensuring Title IX is a priority, I propose that there should be a mandatory penalty or automatic fine imposed by the regulatory body of the NCAA. A settlement that reinstates the already existing teams, such as at Dartmouth, does not ensure compliance. Instead, it provides a Band-Aid to negative public sentiment until the issue is brought up again. The impetus for lawsuits should not be on those affected by discrimination and unequal representation but should be built into the governing body’s regulations.

The NCAA can and should require schools to provide relative percentages of student bodies and varsity sports yearly and continue to penalize those who make no strides to achieve government required equality. Universities like William and Mary have promised compliance for decades but consistently find excuses in the economy, such as COVID-19, and enter meaningless settlements instead of achieving equality.[13]


[1] Associated Press, Dartmouth Reinstates Five Sports After Title IX Concerns, ESPN (Jan. 29, 2021), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/30801372/dartmouth-reinstates-five-sports-title-ix-concerns.

[2] See Annika Johnson, Dartmouth Reinstates All 5 Programs After Title IX Claims, Swimswam (Jan. 29, 2021), https://swimswam.com/dartmouth-reinstates-all-5-programs-after-title-ix-claims/.  

[3] Tyler Byrum, William & Mary Violated Title IX Legislation ‘For Decades’, Lawyers Say, NBC Sports (Oct. 21, 2020), https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/ncaa/william-mary-violated-title-ix-legislation-decades-lawyers-say.

[4] Johnson, supra note 2.

[5] James Sutherland, Dartmouth Women’s Swim & Dive, Golf Seek Reinstatement for Title IX Violation, Swimswam (Dec. 18, 2020), https://swimswam.com/dartmouth-reinstates-all-5-programs-after-title-ix-claims; see also Associated Press, supra note 1 (addressing the overall deficit).

[6] Johnson, supra note 2.

[7] Sutherland, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Dartmouth Sports, FAQ: Reinstatement of Athletic Teams, https://dartmouthsports.com/sports/2021/1/29/faq-reinstatement-of-athletic-teams-210129.aspx (last visited Feb. 6, 2020).

[11] See Johnson, supra note 2 (calculating the undergraduate population would be the original 49.06% female, but varsity sports would only be 44.87% female).

[12] Johnson, supra note 2.

[13] Byrum, supra note 3.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *