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.”

About Joanne


  1. The solution is easy…we’ll just charge a “penalty” to the school’s parents who don’t come to the girl’s basketball games, and use the money to pay for the new bureacracy needed to assess and collect the “penalty”. Any money left over can be used to but self-esteem trophys for the girls.

  2. When my older kids were in HS (grad 92&94), the soccer games were typically scheduled with the JV and varsity back to back, with the varsity in the most popular spot. At that time, the boys’ HS season was in the fall and the girls’ in the spring. By the time my younger kids were in HS (grad 01&03), both sexes played in the fall and the schedule was boys’ and girls’ varsity back to back (alternating premier times) on the stadium field and the girls’ and boys’ JV typically playing on a secondary field at the same times (so both JV and varsity could share the same bus) – where there was usually no spectator bleachers. In my experience with 3 sons playing, I never saw a girls’ game draw even half as many spectators and I saw MANY games when the “crowd” was pretty much limited to parents and a few friends. This was in the DC area, where soccer has been an extremely popular and competitive sport for at least 40 years. The travel leagues, both boys’ and girls’ ,are equally so. There just isn’t the same level of spectator interest, however. I saw the same thing in the Twin Cities, which followed the same schedule my younger kids had in DC. The premier times should go to the teams that can attract the paying spectators.

    BTW, I am no fan of Title IX, as it currently exists, because it discriminates against boys (who typically have more interest in sports, as a group) and ignores non-athletic extracurriculars (theater, dance, student gov’t etc) where girls predominate, Both in the DC area and in the Twin Cities, colleges were recruiting swimmers who had never picked up a paddle (I knew some) for crew teams because there weren’t enough rowers to fill the rosters (some HS-level crew in DC, none in TC) – but crew was being started because it would even the Title IX numbers. At the same time that almost every HS in MN had boys’ soccer JV and varsity (and the big schools also had a freshman team), not one state college in MN had a men’s soccer team, just women’s. College wrestling is dying and major swimming powers (like UCLA) have had to give up their men’s team. That’s unfair. I have heard some fervent Title IX supporters admit that many in their camp really want to force the elimination of football, despite its popularity with both athletes and spectators.

    • Oh, I wonder if this is why my daughter and I get asked pretty much every week at the YMCA swim lessons to join the swim team. (Our Y hosts the local public school’s swim team.) Maybe I should tell them that we homeschool and I’m not sure we’d even count towards their quota.

  3. Yes, that’s why I joined the cross country team–because of the large cheering crowds. I didn’t think to sue the football team for equal time with the cheer leaders…

  4. I don’t think the crowds will necessarily come, but I think the girls’ teams deserve an equal shot at prime time playing. If the schools never schedule girls’ events on the big nights, and your community has a sense that there are big nights, there’s little hope that they will gain that popularity for spectators, and I think girls deserve a shot .

    The outcome isn’t likely to be big crowds at girls games, especially at first, but it difficult to figure out why schools shouldn’t try if only to send the message to the girls’ teams that the school itself takes their play seriously. And I think a few more folks might go.

    I’d be surprised if boys attendance is harmed much by playing some of the weekdays. It doesn’t seem to affect things in my area. A big BB game draws on Tuesday night pretty much what it would draw on Friday and likely more than what it would draw on Saturday.

    I’m always vaguely amazed that people sue over stuff like this, though. I would expect the community backlash to eclipse the benefits for a long time even if you won the suit.

    I don’t have a firm stand on Title IX. I think it’s done some good. When men’s programs are harmed, it’s usually because the school overvalues football in particular and the number of players and scholarships it demands. I’m an SEC fan, so I accept this as the natural order of things, but at the same time, I see the benefits to girls and young women socially and professional to learn to compete as a member of a team. And having watched schools in action, I do think the pressure to create opportunities for girls had to come externally and be mandatory.

    • When I was in college in the 60s, I had friends on the swim team. Although men and women trained together, with the same coaches, and swam meets together, the guys had team suits, caps,warmups, t-shirts etc; the women had only a team cap. They had to swim meets in the awful, stretched-out, “black” (really grayish) tank suits that were kept in bins in the locker room and used by all the rec swimmers and classes, because they were the only suits allowed in the pool, other than official varsity suits. They weren’t even allowed to compete in their own Speedos. That was flat wrong, but the pendulum has gone too far the other way. From my kids’ experience, girls teams may have empty or ghost slots (on the roster but never shows), and it’s not uncommon for girls to drop off HS or college teams if they don’t travel or get much time. It’s far less likely for that to occur with guys.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    Do the high school’s charge for admission to these games? If so, scheduling the less popular games at the more popular times also takes money away from the sports program(s).

    • Every varsity game soccer game I have ever attended, and most JV, charged admission. Swim teams, no. I think it’s reasonable to try girls’ games at prime times for a couple of years, but if they can’t attract spectators, those time slots should be given to teams with more fans – it reflects community interest and financial good sense.

      • What I think its strange is that they don’t choose to pair varsity boys and girls on same weekend night and then rotate who plays first. I think you’d still see all the fans for the boys game pay to get in and they might come or stay for part of the girls games.

        • Some places do this – my earlier post describes how that worked.

          • In my area, basketball and soccer crowds aren’t comparable. I think the nights the boys team played first, a decent percentage of the crowd might stick around for at least some of the girls game.

            I don’t think there’s any way to ensure a big crowd at the girls’ game. I think you can look at the WNBA vs the NBA and draw conclusions about what general fans what to see. I just think the school can offer the girls teams equality in whatever perks they can confer. Game night and time is one of the perks they can deliver, and I don’t think it will hurt boys attendance.

            There’s also the point that we haven’t addressed about making the girls play a disproportionate percentage of their games on school nights which has some scholastic implications that should probably be shared.

    • Mark,

      I think the fans follow the boys whatever night of the week they play as long as they get the schedule out to the fans. So, I doubt the school will see an appreciable loss over the course of the week. They’ll just be earning it different nights.

  6. I’m not a fan of cheering crowds, but then again I spent way more attention in high school and college paying attention to the sideline showgirls (Cheerleaders, Songleaders, and the Dance Squad)

    All this aside, more idiocy from the federal judiciary on this one…

    • Do “Cheerleaders, Songleaders, and the Dance Squad” count towards Title IX numbers? That would be helpful in keeping football, wrestling, etc. around….

      • If they are competitive squads and are governed by your state athletic association, I believe they do.

      • No, cheerleaders and dance teams do not count toward Title IX if they cher/perform during other athletic events – one of my big beefs with Title IX. The University of ME was one of the first to field a competitive chert team, which did not cheer for any sport but only competed against other comp cheer squads , but I don’t think the “sport”-went anywhere. Title IX ignores/doesn’t include those extracurriculars where women predominate.

        • Sorry – that should have been the University of MD. I think there were less than 10 schools that tried comp cheer.

        • Seriously? I would have been in trouble if my university hadn’t let me use dance classes to meet my PE requirements….
          So, if I understand this correctly, Title IX only requires equal numbers of girls in athletic endeavors that girls don’t tend to flock to. (Anyone who doesn’t think that dancing is a sport is welcome to try clogging or swing. Just check with your doctor first.)
          Why do social engineers feel it necessary to try to tell girls what to like? What’s wrong with what we like? Are our preferences somehow inferior to those of men? Is legislation the only way to save us from our misguided selves?

      • superdestroyer says:

        NO, The University of Oklahoma tried to put its cheerleaders on scholarship so that the cheerleaders (all female) would count for Title IX compliance. The courts ruled that cheerleading could not be used of offset football players for Title IX compliance.

        One of the legacies of schools attempting them call cheerleading a sport is that at many universities, the athletic department controls the cheerleaders.

        • Ted Craig says:

          I don’t understand why Title IX doesn’t exempt football. No sport, boys or girls, uses as many athletes, with the possible exception of cross country.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            “I don’t understand why Title IX doesn’t exempt football.”

            Because the point is to require having as many female athletes as male athletes.

            This is the same reason that Title IX requires the same number of male cheerleaders as female cheerleaders. If a school can’t get the male numbers up, they have to shut down the cheerleading program to be fair.

            [No, not really]

  7. I think that whether cheerleading counts for high school compliance is a little more complicated. If you look at the decision in the college cases, the judges typically outline ways that cheerleading failed to match other sports; if you look at high school competitive cheerleading in some states, it often meets those standards.

    It’s clear that sideline cheerleading doesn’t meet, but when squads have a regular season, compete, have a state championship, are governed by the state athletic association rules, get comparable locker room and practice space, etc, I’m not sure that the college case rules where these things were not true apply. However, I didn’t find a high school cheerleading compliance case when I searched; did anyone else?

    If some states are counting high school competitive cheer leading in their title ix numbers, and nobody sues or corrects them, does it count toward compliance numbers?

  8. Ted Craig says:

    When Michigan had separate seasons for girls and boys basketball (fall and winter), the girls had a very strong following. But then parents sued to make them both in the winter, claiming the girls were missing out on scholarships.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      The funniest bit is that NCAA division 1 schools have more scholarships available for women’s basketball (15 per school) than for men’s basketball (13 per school).


      • And I think baseball is similar treated contrasted with softball. And in some conferences, you get women’s soccer and volleyball teams, but no men’s teams in those sports.

        But isn’t this all of this because they want to counteract the football scholly numbers? I don’t want to see it happen, but without football, it’s pretty easy to make all the numbers work.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          NCAA div-1 baseball and softball scholarship limits are quite close: 11.7 for baseball and 12 for softball.

          But, yes, a bunch of this is trying to find 85 women’s slots to offset the football team. I suspect that schools without a D1 football program have a much easier time keeping things in balance.

  9. This is a good example of having to choose the lesser of two evils. It seems wrong that girls games are not scheduled at popular times, even if there are practical reasons for that choice tied to audience preferences. It also seems wrong to handle this with litigation, partly on general principles — there ought to be a step short of litigation that could lead to a fair outcome. But also partly because litigation seems unlikely to solve the problem.

    And let me add, just how much cheering do high school athletes need in order to feel encouraged? I just attended a water ballet performance that, I promise you, involved a quite small (but very enthusiastic) audience and a high degree of athleticism. And I can” remember ever having more than a few spectators at sports in the ’60’s., but that didn’t detract from the competition or the fun. Maybe the boys’ sports are oer-emphasizing the glory aspect to the detriment of the skill and teamwork aspect.

  10. One of my sons was being recruited by highly competiive D1 soccer programs – 4 scholarships, period, for a squad of 18 or 20. The most a freshman would get would be $1000 – at a very expensive private school (over $35k over 10 years ago) – upperclassmen got more. I seem to remember one coach saying that the women’s team had 3 times that number of scholarships. I knew a girl who had a full ride at UFlorida in soccer, in the same time period, and a couple, ditto, in field hockey.