Congressmen announce bill that would strengthen Title IX in sports, threaten noncompliant schools with penalties

·4-min read

United States Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) plan to introduce a new bill that would strengthen Title IX, the influential 1972 law that helped spur a women's sports boom, but that, in many cases, remains unenforced in athletics.

Murphy and Adams announced details of the forthcoming legislation at an event in Washington D.C. on Thursday, on Title IX's 50th anniversary.

The bill, dubbed the Fair Play for Women Act, would extend Title IX's application beyond schools, to college conferences and the NCAA itself, Murphy said. Title IX currently only applies to colleges and secondary schools that receive federal funding.

The bill would also allow for "fines that can be levied against colleges that are violating Title IX," Murphy said. One of the original law's biggest flaws, attorneys and advocates explained to Yahoo Sports, is that it "has no teeth." Its primary enforcement mechanisms — lawsuits and formal federal complaints — lean on athletes to recognize violations and challenge their own schools.

As a result, most Division I schools appear to be out of compliance with Title IX, according to a Yahoo Sports analysis of 2020-21 data, several similar analyses, and experts on the law. Over 80% of Division I schools do not offer women athletic participation opportunities that are “substantially proportional” to their presence in the student body — the primary prong of Title IX’s core compliance test.

"At its heart," Murphy said Thursday, "we are attempting to pass a piece of legislation that allows us to make real the commitment of Title IX, and to finish the work that's been un-done." He indicated that he and Adams would introduce the bill over the coming weeks and months.

Another core tenet of it, he said, would be the creation of a "one-shop clearinghouse for data on how much colleges are spending on women's sports vs. men's sports, so that everybody can see, without having to do a whole bunch of independent research and digging, what that disparity looks like."

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act already requires colleges and universities to file annual reports that include spending figures, but the clearinghouse would presumably be a more centralized and digestible database.

Murphy's office also told USA Today that other pillars of the bill include:

— A requirement that high schools report participation data to the Department of Education, like colleges already do under the EADA;
— New guidelines for that reporting;
— New requirements for Title IX-related education of athletes and athletic-department employees.

Adams expanded on the educational element at Thursday's event. She said the bill would focus on "providing more information for college and high school students and parents about how to contact their Title IX coordinators." Recent research has shown that most Americans know little or nothing about the law itself. And while most college students are taught about Title IX’s application to sexual assault and harassment, according to interviews, surveys and published policies, relatively few athletes are taught about its application to sports.

“That's honestly the biggest problem,” said one Power Five athlete, who recently spoke to Yahoo Sports on the condition of anonymity because she feared retribution from her school. “There's no education. There's no talk of [Title IX], more avoidance than anything.”

Adams also mentioned that the bill could give "greater authority to the Department of Education to bring schools into compliance." The department's Office for Civil Rights currently polices Title IX, but most of its work in athletics is reactive, in response to complaints from students, their family members and coaches. Title IX regulations technically threaten to withhold federal funds from schools if they don’t comply, but, as Catherine Lhamon, the DOE's assistant secretary for civil rights, told Yahoo Sports last week, “by statute, we are required to give schools multiple opportunities to come into compliance before we can impose a penalty.”

In 50 years, although thousands of investigations have found noncompliance, that penalty — “our one tool,” Lhamon called it — has never been levied.

Adams on Thursday also mentioned "creating streamlined regulations around revenue distribution for colleges and their external partners." It was unclear what, exactly, she meant. The text of the bill has not yet been finalized.

In general, Adams said, the bill will "address the gaps in the law" with respect to sports.

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