How Title IX Contributes to the United States Domination in Women's Soccer



On Sunday night, the United States Women's Team won its third World Cup to maintain its international powerhouse status. On top of being the first three-time champion, the Olympic team has won four gold medals. Compare their norm of success to that of, say, the US Men's Team, who does not know what it's like to consistently be even a top 10 team. In a sport that is popular among boys and girls alike, why do we see this international success rate differential? Title IX likely paved the way for the Women's Team's success (in terms of being world champions and consistent international competitors). Here is a nonexclusive list of reasons why:

1. Title IX originally focused on mere opportunity after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 refueled the women's rights movement, and express athletic regulations came later to drive the point home.

Title IX, in reality, is much more broad than many people realize. If it only applied to athletics, maybe it would not have passed in the first place. Title IX is a huge comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Enacted in 1972, it focused on "provid[ing] for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs - an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want, and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work." It follows that the concern honed in on how this piece of legislation would affect men's sports because college athletics are a core ingredient to our culture.

Although the majority of athletic programs themselves receive little to no direct federal funding, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 stated that since Title IX applies to the entire institution that receives federal financial assistance, college athletic programs are within Title IX's scope and must comply with the law.

There are three broad prongs of regulated compliance that schools must meet: (1) Athletic financial assistance (i.e., scholarships), (2) equivalence in other athletic benefits and opportunities (e.g., equipment, supplies), and (3) effective accommodation of student interests and abilities. Schools may satisfy the third prong by showing any one of the following three things: (a) opportunities for men and women are substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments, (b) a history and continuing practice of program expansion where members of one gender are underrepresented, or (c) the interests and abilities of the members of that gender have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program where (a) and (b) are not met.

Opportunities - whether mandated or voluntary - can lead to access. Access can foster growth. Growth can find talent. Talent can gather a following. A following can provide support. Support can provide that inspiration and motivation that pushes an athlete past her limits. Exceeding limits on the stage of world soccer can lead to wins.

For more information on Title IX basics, click here.

2. since schools were federally mandated to spend more money on women's sports, soccer was a fairly small expense that many institutions likely did not mind incurring.

Title IX does not require that the same amount of money be spent on men's and women's sports. Schools only need to provide equal opportunities. Therefore, after 1972, many colleges were forming NCAA sanctioned women's varsity soccer teams. For the 2014 season, 1,667 colleges across the divisions had a varsity women's soccer team, and Division I schools could award up to 14 "full" scholarships to female soccer players, which is more than what the schools could award to their male equivalents. Soccer teams can have fewer players than other sports, equipment costs are relatively lower, and soccer staffs are more concise. So, the price tag on varsity women's soccer programs is not a tough expense to swallow. A rise in opportunity is a win, but the money is a separate story.

3. US Soccer's popularity grew in general from the 1970s onward.

Bluntly, approximately 100,000 people in the US played soccer in 1967. In 1984, approximately 4 million people in the US were playing soccer. Obviously something had to happen for the sport to catch fire like that. Hello, Title IX. The exponential increase continued so that by 2006, 24 million Americans were playing soccer, 4.2 million (1.7 million are women) of which registered with US Soccer, the national governing body for the sport. Many of those people who no longer play soccer are spectators, and parents pass on their love of the game to their children. In 2012, around 30 percent of US households had someone who played soccer. Baseball, America's pasttime, was the only sport with a higher frequency.

Specifically for girls, Title IX as the root for domination makes sense. Ask young women today when they became a soccer fan, and the answer you will probably hear will be on or around 1999. Why? That is the year the US hosted the FIFA Women's World Cup and won the final for the second time. That is when Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt after scoring the winning goal in overtime. That is when women's soccer gained even more momentum in the US. How did the 1999 Women's Team become so insanely strong? Check out the timeline. The 1999 team's ages ranged from 20 to 33 years old. So, when Title IX came about in 1972, most of these women were preschool aged or just about to be born. They grew up in a time when they could start playing young, have more opportunities to play soccer, and take their talent to the scholarship varsity level and succeed like the boys. (Note: Eight of the 20 women on that team played at the University of North Carolina, which has won 22 of the 36 NCAA National Championships and became a varsity sport three years before the NCAA hosted women's soccer national championships.)

As many have heard, this Women's World Cup Final 26.7 million combined viewership set a new soccer record, defeating last year's Men's World Cup Final record audience of 26.5 million as well as the most recent NBA and NFL Finals. Women's soccer attained professional status in the US within the past decade as well. Women's Professional Soccer had its first season in 2007 and was replaced by the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), a league system operated by the US Soccer Federation. This professional opportunity for women in the US is a relatively recent development, it is still a unique opportunity when standing next to women's professional soccer opportunities in other nations.

Providing additional opportunities for talented athletes to play professionally can increase the incentive to start training young and continue to develop their talent and passion longer than if they did not have such an opportunity. That chance for exposure to quality coaching, training, and competition at higher levels likely has an impact on why our women are killing it on the field.

4. No other country has legislation like title IX.

It’s not why the U.S. is so good, but why the rest of the world is so bad.
— Stefan Szymanski, professor at the University of Michigan;

Title IX is in no way perfect. It is successful but not totally fair... yet... but its anti-gender discrimination tone is a step up from what existed here before and what exists in other countries that are ages behind the times. For example, for about half a century in England starting in the 1920s, women's soccer was banned, and today they lack a backing organization. Brazilian women were similarly banned from 1941 to 1979. Also, Brazil's beastly women's soccer team currently has to face sexist remarks from the Confederation of Brazilian Football's women's coordinator about how their shorter shorts and makeup are moves creating the sport's growth. With these barriers in mind, it is no surprise that FIFA reports only 12 percent of youth soccer players are girls and that the US makes up over half that percentage.

To conclude, there is a beautiful study that shows a correlation between a team's Women's World Cup success and that country's gender equality based on the United Nation's 2013 Gender Inequality Index. Brazil is the outlier with high Women's World Cup success and high gender inequality, but as you can see in the image below, the relevance is undeniable.

  Kuang Keng Kuek Ser, Public Radio International;

Kuang Keng Kuek Ser, Public Radio International;