Gender Equality in Sports Scholarships

Gender equality in scholarship funding has caused some of the most heated debates in collegiate sports. Women have been fighting for equality in college sports for decades, because of sexism and other social issues. With the passage of Title IX and the inception of the Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAA), later absorbed by the NCAA, great strides have been made. However, colleges in the U.S. still struggle to meet demands of gender equality.

History of Women's Athletics

Restrictions on female athletic participation were originally put in place by female physical education instructors. During the first two decades of the 20th century, opportunities for women to participate in collegiate sports were continually diminished, according to the Women's Sports Foundation 13. By the early 1920s women were only allowed to participate in sports via recreational sports days, because it was thought that too much physical exertion was unhealthy for the female body and would result in masculinization. Competition and exertion were downplayed during these friendly sports days, and socialization was the central theme.

Social Change

During the Great Depression, more and more women went to work to support their families. Working in occupations that were once traditionally men's jobs, such as factories, provided opportunities for women to join industrial athletic leagues and it became more socially acceptable for women to participate in sports. In fact, female physical educators began to concede that sports participation improved, rather than harmed, the health of college women, as they had insisted in the years leading up to the Depression. They began allowing more girls to participate.

Wars and Sports

During both World War II and the Vietnam War, significant portions of the male population were sent to support the war effort. With fewer men available to participate in sports in the U.S., opportunities for women to participate increased exponentially. Female university students were able to take advantage of a growing opportunity to compete with girls from other schools and began to organize female athletic leagues. This movement coincided with the beginning of the feminist movement, and the notion that women should be represented equally in collegiate sports was advanced.

The Passage of Title IX

By the end of the 1960s, it was clear that female collegiate athletics were grossly underfunded. Public figures such as Billy Jean King began to speak out about the inequality between men and women in higher education. Amid growing demand, congress, spearheaded by Representative Edith Green of Ohio, began holding hearings concerning gender equality in publicly funded colleges in 1970, according to Iram Valentin, a Research Fellow for the Education Development Center. As a result of the hearings, Title IX was passed two years later. It requires equal funding by law for male and female athletes, including scholarship distribution.

Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Association

With the passage of Title IX came the inception of the Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The WIAA was the governing body for all female intercollegiate athletics from 1972 to 1982. The organization fought to keep female athletics separate from male athletics to ensure equal funding for equipment and scholarships, while athletes and coaches were beginning to feel that the organization was holding them back. By isolating female athletics, the WIAA inadvertently caused male and female athletics to be viewed as unequal, much to the chagrin of participants. Eventually, after a rally by coaches and athletes, the WIAA was absorbed by the NCAA, which was charged with the task of keeping athletic scholarships equal between men and women. Today, many still work to equalize the genders in collegiate athletics, but great progress has been made in the right direction.