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Sporting Chance: Title IX Q&A with Judy Sweet

Judy Sweet was the first woman to hold the post of NCAA President—a position that was formerly reserved for an elected member of the Association, not to be confused with the current presidential position, which the top position on the NCAA staff. In addition to serving as the long-time director of athletics at U.C. San Diego, Sweet was the senior vice president of championships at the NCAA from 2001-2006.

Sweet will be featured in the NCAA film, Sporting Chance, sponsored by Northwestern Mutual. The film, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX, will air on ESPN 2 at noon on June 23—the anniversary of the law’s passage.

Sweet shared some reflections on the journey Title IX has had over the last 40 years and the hopes she has for its future.

NCAA: You have had the unique opportunity to be involved in athletics both prior to the passage of Title IX and after its adoption. How have you seen the landscape of intercollegiate athletics change during that time?                                                                                                                                                                     

Sweet: It’s difficult to fully describe the incredible impact Title IX has had on educational opportunities for girls and women in the past 40 years.  First and foremost, career opportunities have grown from being a teacher, nurse or secretary to being almost unlimited.  In respect to intercollegiate athletics, the change has been similar.  Prior to Title IX, there were few organized sport opportunities for girls and women.  I know that personally because while I loved and played sports all of my life, I never had an opportunity to play on my high school or college teams….because there were none.  I had to find my own opportunities and thus I participated in sports days and play days and community recreation programs.  I wanted to be an athlete but was labeled a tomboy (and that was not a compliment at the time!)  Title IX was the golden key that opened the door for girls and women to dream big dreams and know that with hard work, those dreams could come true.

NCAA: Do we still have work to do in promoting gender equity?

Sweet: While we have made significant progress in respect to gender equity, we have yet to reach full parity.  Forty years, and we still have work to do.  With a strong commitment from those in decision making positions, we should have realized years ago the full intent of Title IX.  The NCAA has worked hard in the past 20 years to educate and prod the membership to embrace and enforce Title IX.  I hope that we don’t have to wait another forty years to celebrate a truly level playing field for our male and female student-athletes.

NCAA: Is Title IX still relevant?

Sweet: Title IX is absolutely still relevant, and necessary.  There are large disparities that still exist in respect to opportunities, recruiting, support and benefits provided to girls and women.  It would be wonderful if institutions had the will and commitment to achieve equity without the need for such a law, but forty years of history has shown that even a federal law hasn’t helped get us to where we need to be.  Stronger enforcement of the law is needed, now.  Wouldn’t that be a great way to celebrate this significant anniversary!

NCAA: How have you seen the NCAA change through the years?

Sweet: I have experienced the NCAA before women’s championships were initiated and when support for Title IX was little to none.  The positive changes since 1981 when the first women’s championships were held have been dramatic.  The early 1990’s were especially positive with the initiation of the gender equity survey, the formation of the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force, the certification process with a gender equity component, and Title IX Seminars which have now been expanded to Gender Equity and Diversity Forums.  It has been rewarding to be a part of this revolutionary change and I applaud the NCAA leadership for recognizing that our sons and daughters deserve equal opportunities and support.

NCAA: Why do we need to celebrate this anniversary?

Sweet: We should always celebrate progress, of which there has been much.  In celebrating, we also should recognize that our work is not done.  We need to continue to educate, to present facts to erase the misunderstandings and myths surrounding Title IX’s impact on men’s sports, to help women understand their rights, and to no longer accept excuses for not fully meeting both our legal and moral responsibilities to comply with this landmark piece of legislation.