Lamenting the unfair treatment of girls and women, Birch Bayh's crusade on their behalf came to fruition 50 years ago, on June 23, 1972.

Bayh, a U.S. Senator from Indiana, authored landmark gender equity legislation that included a 37-word clause forever changing the national sports landscape. He was thereafter known as the "Father of Title IX."

But while women’s athletics were expected to stand on equal footing with men’s, 50 years later it hasn’t happened.

Along with the success of the WNBA and tremendous crowds for powerhouses such as the UConn and Tennessee women’s basketball teams, came a video that went viral inside the NCAA women's tournament San Antonio bubble in 2021: the single dumbbell rack and stack of yoga mats, which served as the “weight room." It paled in comparison to the massive, state-of-the-art facility that had been custom-built for men’s players competing in Indianapolis.

Title IX: Falling short at 50

The NCAA later apologized for the inequities.

Through the years, women’s sports have improved exponentially on and off the playing field — more than three million women compete in high school and college athletics, compared to 300,000 in 1972.

However, despite the landmark law banning sex discrimination in education, most major colleges and universities are still not providing women adequate opportunities to play sports. USA Today found 86% of schools are not offering athletic opportunities to women proportionate to their enrollment, according to the news organization’s analysis of 127 public and private schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision during the 2020-21 academic year.

"Proportionality" is the safest of the three ways that schools’ athletic programs can show compliance with Title IX under the U.S. Department of Education’s three-prong test. Calling it a “safe harbor,” the agency states that the gender composition of its athletic program should substantially match that of its undergraduate enrollment.

Yet USA Today found that 110 schools would need to add a total of 11,501 new female roster spots to close the participation gap.

That’s an average of 104 per school — roughly the size of a football team and enough to add several women’s teams each.

Title IX has woven its way into everyday life. How does it affect athletes, coaches and administrators? We asked them for their thoughts.

“Do I think women’s sports are improving? Absolutely,” said Tyra Buss, the Indiana University women’s basketball team’s career leader in points, assists and steals. “But I also think there is still a long way to go in order to be classified as getting a ‘fair shake’ these days. We saw it in San Antonio in 2021."

Buss, formerly an assistant coach at UE and a standout high school player at Mount Carmel, will enter her second season as an assistant coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

More:Former Indiana University standout Tyra Buss to play professionally in Greece

Indiana University guard Tyra Buss (3) dribbles downcourt against Michigan State on March 1, 2018 in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Indianapolis.
“Maybe by no means was that situation intentional, but it brought awareness amongst women participating that things still need to change and we need to make sure we understand what Title IX is supposed to provide and make the most of ensuring that we don’t remain stagnant,” said Buss, who helped lead IU to the 2019 WNIT championship.

In addition to sheer numbers, Buss said coverage of women’ sports needs to improve.

“Every day, men’s sports stories dominate the 10 most popular sport’s websites,” she said. “The bigger picture: women’s sports in the U.S. receive an unbelievable low percentage of sports media coverage. It’s improved over the last couple of years but needs to improve even more. I believe women’s teams need to receive the same exposure through marketing and promotion. More promotion equals more fans.”

Girls’ sports took center stage on one magical night — the championship game of the Toyota Gibson County Teamwork Classic in December 2013 at Fort Branch, Indiana. That night, Jackie Young, currently in her fourth season with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, lifted Princeton to an 84-82 victory over Buss and Mount Carmel. Buss scored 66 points for the Aces, but it still wasn’t enough. For her part, Young had 42 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Current Gibson Southern principal Jon Adams, then the Titans’ athletics director, estimated the overflowing crowd at nearly 4,000; the capacity of the gym is 3,800.

“That night of the Toyota Classic championship was unbelievable,” Buss said. “Who would’ve ever thought there would be standing-room only in Gibson Southern’s gym to watch a high school girls' basketball game? It’s exciting — moments like that and experiences like that that can help change the way people view women’s sports, women’s basketball in general. We are just as exciting and just as fun to watch as men’s sports.”

There's plenty of hope — Buss emphasized that Title IX will impact the future generation in just the sheer amount of resources available to them.

“It will be amazing to see a world where little girls don’t know the difference,” she said. “That these opportunities were available to their grandmas or even moms when they were their age. They will have the opportunity to see their dreams as reality instead of just something that they are hoping will work out for them. We are going to see more women in the male dominated spaces and it will be so exciting.”

Ziggy Siegfried, named University of Evansville's athletics director in April, said the NCAA women’s pandemic tournament "bubble" compared to the NCAA men’s tournament "bubble" served as a snapshot for how much work still needs to be done.

"The first 50 years of Title IX has provided much more participation for female student-athletes, but the focus now is shifting to the quality of their experience," Siegfried said. "I believe many departments have focused on the participation and not the overall experience being equitable."

While attending the University of Memphis, Siegfried wrote his dissertation on women's athletics.

"My dissertation focused on how to enhance female student-athlete satisfaction with a D1 limited resourced institution," Siegfried said. "A significant part of my dissertation included the history of Title IX, how far we have come since it was started and I addressed the need for continued efforts."

He said part of the problem is getting the right people to make the right decisions. Before coming to UE, Siegfried created a women’s excellence fund to create philanthropic interest as Cal State Bakersfield's athletics director. It takes money to make women’s programs on par with the men’s.

UE has nine women’s sports and eight men’s. Across town, the University of Southern Indiana, which will enter the D1 ranks this fall, will have 10 women's sports and nine men's.

More: Indiana native Jackie Young helps propel U.S. to Olympic gold in women's 3-on-3 basketball

Julie Sellers, former high school coach

Julie Sellers, who played sports at Mater Dei High School in the mid-1980s and coached for decades thereafter, said whether girls’ athletics gets a fair shake is territorial – and sometimes institutional.

“From the experiences we have had here in Indiana, and particularly in Evansville, girls have a lot of opportunity,” Sellers said. “However, there are several factors involved. Is it the view of the athletic administration as well as academic administration in a given area and/or school to emphasize sports and participation or any level of involvement therein? Do these same people support and help promote participation or competition or recognition? Is the coaching staff knowledgeable? Do they have experience?”

Sellers said making more of an effort to seek out qualified coaching staffs could improve girls’ sports.

“Sometimes there is a sense of complacency with just ‘getting positions filled,’’’ she said. “The level of training for coaches needs to include the ‘Psychology of Sport.’ The history of a particular program or school can make it difficult to train the mindset of current athletes. Life skills including problem-solving, overcoming, perseverance are a huge part of athletics. Are we teaching these skills? Have a more intentional effort to recognize involvement and improvement. This recognition can be within a school, within a community, the media, etc.”

An Indiana All-Star basketball player in 1986, Sellers played college volleyball for four years at IU. She also threw the javelin for the Hoosiers' track team.

Her first year out of college, Sellers served as an assistant volleyball coach and assistant basketball coach at UE. She was an assistant volleyball coach for three years at Harrison and head coach for 27 before resigning three years ago. During that time, Sellers also assisted with girls’ basketball before becoming the head track and field coach.

After resigning from volleyball and track at Harrison, she was an assistant track coach at UE for four years. Sellers coached men and women in the throwing events.

Women have fought to be more involved in sports for decades — long before Sellers' time. Not a historical or political aficionado, she never questioned "the way things were."

“For me, I was fortunate to be blessed with athletic ability and the opportunities to participate,” Sellers said. “Growing up, I had the desire to coach and share my knowledge and opportunities.”

She finds it interesting that there are a lot of men who coach women’s sports and athletes, but not vice versa.

“Just a point of interest," she said. "I’m not sure that it made a difference for me one way or another. I had some great coaches — male and female — in all the sports I have been involved in, from girls’ Little League baseball to college athletics.”

Jon Mark Hall, USI athletics director

“We need to continue to look at new opportunities," said Jon Mark Hall, who has been USI's athletics director since January 2002. He coached the men’s tennis team from 1995 to 2002.

Scholarships and dollars have increased, but there's still work to do to make both more comparable to the men’s programs; women's facilities need to be improved.

“And as mentioned before, we need to improve participation and scholarship opportunities,” he said. “We also need to improve coaching situations so more women will have opportunities to coach at the intercollegiate level. We also need to see that happen in athletic administration.”

Hall said USI needs to boost its scholarship budgets as the university makes the transition to Division I.

“Also, we need to continue to look at emerging sports for women so we can improve the number of opportunities we have on campus,” he said. “We are excited to add women’s swimming and diving this year and will continue to see what women’s sports start to emerge at the high school and youth sports level here in the state of Indiana.”

USI’s women’s programs have been successful in NCAA Division II — the Eagles’ basketball team placed second in the 1997 NCAA tournament. The softball team captured the national championship in 2018 and has won three Midwest Regional titles in the past five seasons.

“We have seen more fan and community support for our women’s teams over the past 20 years,” Hall said. “... I think all NCAA institutions need to continue to promote women’s sports and improve on that promotion because we are seeing attendance and TV numbers rising when the proper promotion is done.”

Leigh Ann Latshaw, coach and AD, Mount Vernon

In her experiences as a high school and college athlete, coach and now athletic administrator at Mount Vernon, Leigh Ann Latshaw has seen scores of changes.

“Obviously when my career started I already had it so much better than those before me,” said Latshaw, the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association District 6 chairperson. “However, it really wasn’t until the spring at a coaches’ meeting when I shared my experiences with my current coaches that it really set in how much progress has been made.”

When she played for Washington High School, the girls' teams didn’t have the quality uniforms and warm-ups or travel suits the boys had.

"We practiced in the elementary gym with a tartan floor while they obviously had the Hatchet House," Latshaw said. “After the junior high gym got refurbished, we were allowed to practice there some days and that is where our games were played, still not in the main gym.

"In college, it goes without saying that several of the girls' programs were left to fight for the scraps after the boys got the facilities, uniforms and equipment that they needed and wanted," she said.

After playing two years of basketball and running cross country at Vincennes University, Latshaw played basketball for one season at Illinois Wesleyan before earning her degree strictly as a student at Indiana State.

“I have seen a shift in allowing girls to share prime-time practice opportunities, prime-time facilities, top-notch uniforms and apparel and a genuine collaboration between the coaches of both the boys' and the girls’ sports," Latshaw said. “That’s not to say that is perfect by any means, but I can tell you that during my career it has come a long way and all administrators and coaches deserve our gratitude for helping to work toward a more level playing field for our female athletes.”

The benefits they receive from the “athletic classroom” have opened doors for their futures in both career opportunities and leadership positions that will continue to promote, grow and evolve for each successive generation, said Latshaw, who has taught and coached for 30 years, including the past eight as Mount Vernon's athletics director.

Ginger Lutterman, former Castle volleyball coach

One of the pre-eminent girls' sports coaches in Southern Indiana for the first 35 years of Title IX, Ginger Lutterman remembers when her Castle High School volleyball team lost to South Bend Adams, which used three boys on its team, in the first round of the 1976 state tournament. Pushing an agenda that the IHSAA should also provide boys' volleyball, victimizing Castle in the process, Adams went on to win the state championship.

An Indianapolis Roncalli father started a class-action lawsuit and others joined in the effort. But then-IHSAA commissioner Phil Eskew declared a year later, after the state tournament and before anything went to court, that boys could no longer play on girls' volleyball teams. It was ruled an uneven playing field because of different rules and net heights.

"South Bend Adams ... wanted to make a point," said Lutterman, who guided Castle to five state finals appearances. "They wanted a guys' team. That's why they did it."

Girls still occasionally play for boys' teams; Jacie Arnold played for Evansville Christian's baseball team this past spring.

"They don't have a softball team and needed players for their baseball team," Lutterman said. "(Evansville Christian) didn't have a softball team. That's why it's allowed."

There are other exceptions, such as a football team using a female kicker.

A more recent controversy surrounds transgender athletes. As promised, the Indiana General Assembly overturned Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of House Bill 1041, which prohibits transgender girls from playing girls' school sports, on May 24. The law will take effect July 1.

Republicans held a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and needed only a simple majority to override Holcomb's veto.

In summation, Title IX has created previously unforeseen opportunities for girls and women. But there is more work to do.

"Women have gotten more opportunities, that's the biggest thing with the equity in sports with Title IX," said Lutterman, named to the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Hall of Fame in 2010. "At the high school level, it's come a long way."

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