Know the Score: Investigate Title IX Compliance in High School Athletics

Since Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 became law, many high school athletic programs still don’t comply with Title IX’s requirements, and the number of expensive lawsuits brought against noncompliant schools is growing.

Use this Program in a Box to encourage your local schools to make sure girls have equal opportunities before litigation becomes necessary. Find out how!

plus-icon TO EXPAND

What You Need to Know about Title IX

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination against students and employees at educational institutions that receive federal funds. It’s brief but has huge implications for women and girls:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Whom does Title IX protect?

Title IX applies to staff and students in any educational institution that receives federal financial assistance. That includes local public school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, libraries, museums, and education agencies. Although Title IX is most famous for its effects on athletics, the law prohibits gender discrimination in all aspects of education. For example, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying based on sex, and pregnancy discrimination can be Title IX violations.

What does Title IX require for athletics?

Although significant improvements toward gender equity have been made since 1972, Title IX is still necessary and relevant today. High school girls face continued discrimination in scheduling, equipment, facilities, and overall participation opportunities. Currently, girls make up 49 percent of the nation’s high school population, but they only account for 41 percent of high school athletes.

Under Title IX, schools are required to

  • offer female and male students equal opportunities to play sports;
  • treat female and male athletes equally in all respects, including offering equitable equipment, facilities, and coaching; and
  • give female and male athletes fair shares of athletic scholarships.

A school can demonstrate that it is providing equal participation opportunities by showing one of the following:

  • The percentage of female and male athletes is proportional to the percentage of female and male students enrolled in the school.
  • The school has a history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented sex.
  • The school is fully and effectively meeting the athletics interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

Additionally, every school must have a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for managing a school’s efforts to comply with its obligations under Title IX, including coordinating the investigations of Title IX complaints. Title IX regulations require that the name and contact information for each Title IX coordinator be made known to all students and employees of a school.

Why does Title IX matter for high school athletes?

AAUW believes that expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women must continue at both the high school and college levels because the benefits are clear:

  • Girls thrive when they participate in sports. Research shows that graduation rates are significantly higher for female athletes than for female students in general.
  • Participation in sports teaches girls important professional lessons. Eighty percent of women identified as key leaders in Fortune 500 companies played sports in childhood, and so did 82 percent of executive businesswomen, a majority of whom said the lessons they learned on the playing field contributed to their success.
  • Athletics offer opportunities to make college affordable. Participating in high school sports allows many students who might otherwise be unable to afford college the chance to compete for athletic scholarships.
  • Organized sports enhance the educational experience by providing opportunities for leadership, teamwork, and competition. Sports also offer contact with adult role models who can provide guidance and support to girls and young women.

You can find more information about Title IX in AAUW’s Know Your Rights tools.

Decide What You Want to Do

Once your branch has decided to investigate Title IX compliance, figure out how big you want your project to be. Do you want to create a Title IX coordinators directory? Do a full-on compliance audit by documenting whether girl athletes are being treated fairly? Maybe you want to tackle it all. But first, recruit a few people to help you, and form a task force to divvy up responsibility and make a plan of action.

Create a Title IX Coordinators Directory for Your Local Schools

Investigate Sports Equity

You can take an active role in investigating Title IX compliance and equity in athletics by simply observing and documenting teams in your town. You can choose to address all three issues listed below or focus on just one. Similarly, you can choose to investigate all the schools in your district or focus on one school. Remember that schools are covered by Title IX only if they receive federal funding. Some private schools may not be covered.

Investigate the number of girl athletes.

One indication of whether a school is providing the same athletic opportunities to its female and male students is to find out if the percentage of female and male athletes is comparable to the overall gender ratio at the school.

Research how many girls and boys attend your local high school/s. Information about the number of students enrolled is usually available on the website of the state department of education or on the community or high school’s website.

Research how many female and male students participate in sports at the school. Every public school in the country is required to report intramural sports participation with the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. This searchable database can be accessed online and includes a participation breakdown by sex. Other informal ways to find this information are to look at a yearbook and estimate, contact the state high school sports association, or check the school website for team rosters.

Compare the percentages of athletes. Are the percentages of female and male athletes proportional to the percentage of female and male students at the school? For example, if the student body is about 60 percent female, then the percentage of girl athletes also should be about 60 percent to meet Title IX’s proportionality test.

Investigate whether girls have equal access to facilities and equipment.

Identify a sport at your local high school for which there is both a girls’ team and a boys’ team. Basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse are often popular. You may also consider swimming, tennis, cross-country, track and field, and golf, although those teams often have coed practices and share facilities and thus are less likely to have visible gender inequities. If there is a sport that is especially popular in your region, like ice hockey or rowing, you could investigate that sport instead.

Find out when the teams you select have their games, matches, or meets. Determine which of the suggested questions below you would like to research, selecting at least three or four. If the wording of the question does not lend itself to your sport, you can alter the language to make it applicable.

  • How do the playing fields/courts/facilities for the girls’ and boys’ teams compare? Are the facilities about the same size and equally kept up?
  • How do the benches where the teams sit compare? Are they of similar quality and quantity?
  • What do the scoreboard, bleachers, and concession stands look like at each game/match/meet?
  • How do the uniforms for each team look? Do they seem to be in about the same condition and around the same age?
  • Are the teams provided with similar coaching staff (experience, compensation, number) and equitable medical support?
  • Are the teams provided with an equitable opportunity to raise revenues through selling concessions before, during, or after the game/match/meet?
  • Do the teams receive the same support from the organized student groups that are required to attend athletic events (such as the band, cheerleaders, and mascots)?

Attend a game/match/meet for the girls’ team and one for the boys’ team. Keep the questions you choose in mind, and take notes on what you see. Although you can attend each game as a full task force or split up to attend different games, it is often useful to have at least one person attend both a girls’ event and a boys’ event for direct comparison. It is best if at least two people attend each game so that there are two sets of notes.

Investigate whether girls have access to fair scheduling.

Unequal game or practice schedules (including games scheduled at less desirable times) for boys’ and girls’ teams may indicate Title IX violations.

Find a game or practice schedule for your chosen teams on the school’s website. If the schedule isn’t available online, you can call the school to ask for one. If you know when at least one game is scheduled, you can attend that game and pick up a season schedule at the game.

Compare the boys’ and girls’ team schedules. Do the teams alternate having their games/matches/meets on Fridays versus other weekdays? Do the teams have an equitable number of away and home games/matches/meets? If the teams have their events on the same day, do they alternate between a more desirable time, like 7 p.m., and a less desirable time, like 5 p.m.?

Evaluate your findings.

Once you’ve completed your investigation, assemble the information you’ve gathered. Based on that information, does it appear that the school’s athletic program is equitable?

Are girls’ and boys’ teams treated similarly?

If yes, great! Highlight your work on your branch’s website, and celebrate the fact that your local schools are helping advance gender equity. Consider writing a note or making a call to the school to explain your project and thank the administration for treating girls’ athletics equitably. Why not write a letter to your local paper calling attention to your findings?

If not, identify the specific areas where you noticed inequity. For instance, were all the girls’ soccer games scheduled at inconvenient or less popular times, while all the boys’ soccer games were scheduled at convenient times? Did the girls’ softball team have to practice on a poorly maintained field while the boys’ baseball team practiced on brand-new turf?

Were there concerns about how girls’ teams were treated?
If branch members have daughters, granddaughters, or family friends who are members of the team that is facing unfair treatment, share your findings with those branch members. Suggest that they approach the school’s Title IX coordinator about your findings.

Reach out to friends or neighbors with connections to the school’s athletics program. Share your findings with them and suggest that they approach the school’s Title IX coordinator. Members of your task force can help.

If your branch doesn’t have any connections to the school, consider approaching the Title IX coordinator yourself. Call or set up a meeting to explain your project and your concerns. Be friendly and collaborative — avoid attacking the school for noncompliance and instead talk about how important it is for girls to know that the school values their sports equally.

Finally, if you believe that a school is not complying with Title IX and reaching out to the Title IX coordinator failed to address your concerns, consider filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. OCR is the federal agency in charge of enforcing Title IX, and anyone can file an OCR complaint against a federally funded school. OCR investigates complaints to determine whether a school is violating Title IX.

Hints and Tips

Grassroots advocacy is the key to fulfilling Title IX’s promise of gender equity in athletics. Keep these points in mind as you begin Know the Score.

Know the Score is about collaboration, not litigation.

The goal of Know the Score isn’t to get schools in trouble for not complying with Title IX. The goal is to make schools aware of potential inequities and encourage them to reach compliance. Always keep a friendly, cooperative demeanor whenever you interact with school officials. Never threaten litigation or try to bully school officials, even if you believe the school’s athletic programs violate Title IX. As community members and advocates, you’ll make more change by working with schools than working against them.

Patience is key.

You may not find the information you need during your first phone call to a school. It may take several calls, e-mails, or Internet searches before you find the right person or correct information.

AAUW members are advocates, not attorneys.

Know the Score’s investigation suggestions help you to evaluate whether a school’s athletics are equitable. However, these investigations won’t lead you to a firm determination about whether a school is violating Title IX. If you think a school isn’t complying with Title IX and your friendly approaches don’t help, consider filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. OCR is the federal agency in charge of enforcing Title IX, and anyone can file an OCR complaint against a federally funded school. OCR investigates complaints to determine whether a school is violating Title IX.

Keep supporting girls’ sports and Title IX. Learn more »

For questions or to let us know how your Know the Score program went, e-mail



Program in a Box Tool Kit

The Program in a Box Tool Kit contains sample templates, forms, and other planning resources for your branch programs and events.

Know Your Rights: Title IX and Athletics

Under Title IX, schools are required to provide equal athletic opportunities to male and female and students.

AAUW’s Title IX Champions!

The Title IX Champions award celebrates the vital contributions of AAUW supporters across the country to Title IX advocacy.