Title IX: Is there a right to equal cheering?

Title IX guarantees girls an equal right to play sports, but does it guarantee a cheering crowd? Joshua Dunn and Martha Derthick, writing in Education Next, are dubious.

In a 2009 lawsuit, Indiana parents complained that nearly all boys’ basketball games, but only half of girls’ games, were scheduled for Friday or Saturday nights. Girls drew smaller crowds, creating “feelings of inferiority,” plaintiffs charged.

The school’s athletic director, Beth Foster, said she’d tried to schedule more girls’ games in prime time but could not because she “can’t get anybody to come play us on those nights.”

The case was thrown out, then revived on appeal by a Seventh Circuit panel.

The court started its decision with the image of a typical Indiana Friday-night game: “A packed gymnasium, cheer-leaders rallying the fans, the crowd on their feet supporting their team, and the pep band playing the school song.” Without similar support from the community, the court speculated that “girls might be less interested in joining the basketball team because of a lack of school and community support, which results in the perception that the girls’ team is inferior and less deserving than the boys’.” As a result, girls might feel like they are “second-class.”

“The appellate judges seemed to be very close to announcing a right” to large, cheering crowds, write Dunn and Derthick. “What if the school schedules more girls’ games in prime time and the fans still don’t come? Or don’t come in the same numbers they do for boys’ games? One glance at the Nielsen ratings for women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments would suggest that this could occur.”

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