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Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics programs. Since Title IX became law in 1972, NWLC has worked hard to ensure that women and girls are treated fairly in athletics programs — from challenging schools to provide female athletes with equal access to athletic opportunities, to fighting efforts to weaken enforcement of Title IX protections for women and girls. Despite the fact that Title IX has opened many doors for women and girls in athletics, schools across the country are still not providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports and are not treating girls’ teams equally in terms of benefits and resources. 

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| NWLC and WSF Guidance Letter on Title IX and Cost of Attendance

July 23, 2015

Dear Colleague:

As organizations concerned about gender equity in sports, we are writing to remind you of the legal principles and NCAA rules regarding “cost of attendance” (COA) funds. After the NCAA adopted legislation in January 2015 permitting member institutions to increase the value of a full athletic scholarship from tuition, fees, room, board and books to a larger amount reflecting a student’s full cost of attendance, a number of institutions have announced plans to do so. For instance, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas has stated that football and men’s and women’s basketball players will receive this benefit (estimated at $4500 per scholarship) effective August 1, 2015.[1] The University of New Mexico plans to award an estimated $2700 to each scholarship athletes in men’s and women’s basketball, football and possibly volleyball.[2]

We fully support schools providing student-athletes with the resources they need to attend and stay in school. We are concerned, however, that some schools’ decisions regarding cost of attendance funds will not treat male and female athletes equally as required by Title IX, as suggested by the announcements from UNLV and UNM. These schools’ plans would result in disproportionately more male athletes benefitting from COA awards. Many schools have indicated that they are waiting for guidance on how to make sure that such awards meet gender equity requirements under Title IX. Accordingly, we outline the guiding legal principles below.

1. Title IX requires institutions to award total financial aid dollars to male and female athletes proportional to their athletics participation numbers.[3] The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has stated the requirement as follows: “[I]f men are 60% of the athletes, OCR would expect that the men's athletic scholarship budget would be within 59%-61% of the total budget for athletic scholarships for all athletes.”[4] Thus, any additional COA scholarship funds that schools choose to award to their athletes must meet this requirement.

2. Title IX requires institutions to treat male and female athletes equally in terms of recruiting.[5] OCR has stated, “[I]f a college consistently awards a greater number of out-of-state scholarships to men, it may be required to demonstrate that this does not reflect discriminatory recruitment practices.”[6] Similarly, institutions must ensure that their decisions regarding COA funds do not reflect discriminatory recruitment practices favoring male athletes or exacerbate existing disparities in the area of recruiting, where funds are already skewed heavily towards men.[7]

3. Title IX requires institutions to treat male and female athletes equally in terms of all benefits that athletes receive.[8] This principle applies to schools’ decisions to tier their sports and provide greater benefits and resources to those sports in the top tier. Contrary to what some schools may think, placing the same number of men’s and women’s teams in the top tier is not necessarily equitable; rather, the focus should be on ensuring that, at the very least, the percentage of overall male athletes in the top tier is equal to the percentage of overall female athletes in that tier. The NCAA has provided further guidance on this issue:

"In any tiering process, each tier should at least [approximately] be composed of the same percentage of each gender’s student-athlete participation ratios. In other words, if 33 percent of the male student-athletes are in the top tier, then 33 percent of the female student-athletes should be there, as well. The caveat here is that an institution’s compliance level under the effective accommodation of athletics interests and abilities requirement may be a significant factor in the appropriateness of this type of approach. For example, if an institution is not in compliance and its athletics participation ratios are skewed, the mere mirroring of the participation rates may not be enough. In those instances, more support of the women’s program may be necessary in order to improve the institution’s level of compliance. As a result, there may be instances in which a greater percentage of female student-athletes receive benefits at a higher tier than do their male counterparts." [9]

Institutions’ decisions regarding COA funds and how to distribute them among athletes must also abide by these rules, as the additional monies are clearly a benefit that certain students will receive based on their status as athletes. Therefore, if a school decides to give COA grants to a certain percentage of their male athletes, it should provide equivalent grants to the same percentage of their female athletes. Doing so also will help schools achieve compliance with the scholarship requirement outlined above.

We encourage you to review these guiding principles as you make your decisions regarding COA funds. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if we can be of further assistance.


Marcia D. Greenberger
National Women’s Law Center  
Deborah Slaner Larkin
Chief Executive Officer
Women’s Sports Foundation

Fact Sheet | The Battle for Gender Equity in Athletics in Colleges and Universities

August 11, 2015

This fact sheet describes the advances that women have made in collegiate athletics since the enactment of Title IX, while identifying the areas in which further work is needed to achieve gender equity.


Fact Sheet | Title IX and Men's Sports: A False Conflict

August 11, 2015

Title IX should not be a scapegoat for some schools' decisions to cut men's sports. Women continue to receive fewer athletic opportunities and resources than men, and many schools choose to prioritize men's football and basketball. While these sports are often described as "revenue sports," the NCAA reports that the majority of them fail to pay for themselves, much less other teams. Rather than dipping into bloated football and men’s basketball budgets, some schools choose to cut sports, but Title IX neither requires or encourages such action.


Fact Sheet | The Battle for Gender Equity in Athletics in Elementary and Secondary Schools

August 11, 2015

This fact sheet discusses the importance of sports for girls, and the unlevel playing field they still face. Compared to male athletes, female athletes receive far fewer participation opportunities and inferior coaching, equipment, practice facilities and competitive opportunities.


More Resources

Fact Sheet | The Next Generation of Title IX: Athletics

June 13, 2012

Fact Sheet | High School Athletics Transparency Bills of 2013

February 02, 2012

Legal Briefs & Testimony | Amicus Brief: Biediger v. Quinnipiac University

September 07, 2011

Fact Sheet | Paying for the Playing Field: Booster Clubs, Funding, School Sports and Title IX

May 15, 2011

Legal Briefs & Testimony | Appellants' Reply Brief: Amber Parker, et. al., v. Indiana High School Athletic Association, et al.

April 29, 2011