Imagine getting a letter saying you haven’t been accepted into a college because you are male, or because you are female. That type of discrimination is what inspired what is called “Title IX” legislation 50 years ago.
Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh was one of the principle authors of that bill, inspired partly by his wife’s rejection from the University of Virginia, and his own father’s views that women should not be discriminated against in education.
“It’s part of his legacy,” said Evan Bayh, the former governor of Indiana, and the late senator’s son, on the Inside Indiana Business podcast.
“I will occasionally have women athletic directors or coaches come up to me and say that they wouldn’t have had the opportunities that they’ve had in their life if that hadn’t opened up the doors for them to be athletes.”
But, the law is about more than athletics, and just because it is law doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t exist any longer.
“There were so many people that embraced it because the spirit of the law was that you were going to treat people equally, women equally and you weren’t going to discriminate,” said Nancy Cross, senior associate athletics director at Purdue University, also on Inside Indiana Business. “And then there were people who did things because it was the law, and if you’re doing it only because it is the law then you still have an uphill battle.”
Cross pointed out that the facilities in last year’s women’s Final Four were different for the men and women.
“When you make decisions that are best for a student athlete then you’ve arrived. But, if you’re making decisions about what’s best for one program or another, then you’ve already discriminated.”
Cross said when everyone at the table has a voice and everyone is making decisions about what’s best for athletes and not “segmenting the market”, then discrimination is not a factor.
“It shouldn’t matter if it’s a male or female swimmer, a male or female golfer, tennis player, basketball, football, every decision that’s made should be made based on what’s best for the student athletes,” she said.
Bayh himself spoke similar words in an interview not long before his 2019 death at 91.
“We spent a lot of time being concerned rightfully about minority rights,” he recalled. “Now it’s time to stand up and make sure that we have majority rights or women’s rights in the educatio0nal system of our country to see that they have equal educational opportunity in the classrooms and on the playing field.”