50 years of Title IX: How college soccer fueled the USWNT engine

June 23, 1972. It is one of the most important days in the history of sports, and it came due to the signing of legislation … for education. It’s the day the Education Amendments of 1972 were signed into law, and within that act, the law we know as Title IX. As Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of turning this bill into law, we take a look at how Article 9 has shaped the strength of the United States women’s national team.

The primary purpose of Title IX was to address discrimination in education. The text that President Richard Nixon signed into law was as follows: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied benefits, or subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity for which Federal Services receive financial assistance. .”

The law was designed to be a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed to end discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment and public facilities. However, Title IX did not protect sex discrimination in education. In fact, the entire law is just one sentence, which prompted President Nixon to publish new regulations that define the law’s enforcement. Where Title IX became more of an athletic focal point came in 1974, when then-Congressman John Tower proposed an amendment that would exempt college and university athletics departments from Title IX.

That amendment was rejected, prompting Senator Jacob Javits to introduce an amendment that would direct the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to include “with respect to intercollegiate athletic activities, reasonable provisions that take into account the nature of a particular sport.” This amendment eventually passed, but it was the opposing audience about including sports in the Title IX regulation that gave the impression that this education law was seen as a law designed to equalize opportunity in sport. And through this educational app, he opened the door for women to increase their chances of participating in team athletics.

See, Title IX not only opened that door but dedicated resources and investments to women’s sports. One of the sports that saw a rapid impact was football. Women’s football grew rapidly in the college ranks, with the NCAA holding its first national championship in 1982. The North Carolina Tar Heels, which had 12 teams at the time, won their first national championship in women’s football. UNC has dominated the sport from the start, winning their first 3 national titles and 16 of their first 19. To date, they have won 21 national championships, which is more than half of the titles awarded. That dominance was the basis for the creation of a new team 3 years later: the United States women’s national team.

The importance of USWNT to the sport of women’s soccer is well documented, but the foundation of the program came from Title IX’s focus on collegiate programming. USWNT’s first match was on August 18, 1985, in an appearance at the Mundialito Championship in Italy. Trained by Mike Ryan, who was the head coach of the Washington Huskies from 1966-1976, the USWNT lost its first game to the Italians 1–0. This team was made up entirely of women’s soccer players who were playing in college. Several of the team’s players formed the core of the team that would go on to establish USWNT as the best women’s national team in the world. Michelle Akers, Julie Fode, and Kristen Lilly were in college at the time, and eventually Mia Hamm made her debut with the team in 1987 at the age of 15.

Title IX also broke the color barrier at a much earlier stage than men. In 1986, Kim Crabbe was called to the USWNT camp, the first black woman to get a call to the USWNT. Crabb caught the attention of then-USWNT coach Anson Dorrance, who was also the head coach of UNC, when she led her team’s George Mason Patriots to a 2-0 victory in the 1985 National Championship over Dorrance and UNC. Shortly after that match, Dorrance called Crab to camp. In 1987, Sandy Gordon became the first black woman to earn an international hat with the USWNT. Growing up in Washington, she didn’t have as many opportunities as some of the other players, and it was one of the rare exceptions that the national team didn’t play college football. However, she was able to see it through the US Amateur Cup and Olympic Festival, and it made it to the international stage.

Although Kim Crabbe and Sandi Gordon saw early success breaking into the USWNT, Title IX’s impact was not guaranteed. While opportunities exist for white women to pursue their sporting dreams, the same opportunities did not systematically exist for women of color, especially black women. And while Act Nine was intended to address equality in education, the bulk of opportunity left people of color outside looking inward until recently. Those opportunities grew considerably as they emerged, with the success of players like Brianna Scurry or Danielle Slaton giving black women a role model to use as a guide.

Over the years, in addition to UNC, other college programs have served as pipelines for USWNT: California Bears, Portland Pilots, Santa Clara Broncos, UCLA Bruins, Virginia Cavaliers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Virginia Cavaliers, and Duke Blue Devils, Florida Gators, and Florida State, to name a few. In the men’s game in the United States, the professional teams and USMNT are not dependent on the college game, with most players developing through the academies. However, the college game remains a major development stage for women’s professional soccer and the international game, even as resources allow more female players to bypass college in favor of other avenues of becoming professionals.

However, it is very easy to tell where the Title IX was the USWNT machine fuel. The United States has won 4 of the 8 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments, including the first (which was called the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in the M&M Cup because FIFA was reluctant to give it the name of the World Cup). The United States has also played in every World Cup, reaching at least the semi-finals each time. In the 31 years since the first tournament, despite recent examples of players dropping out of school to turn pro, only two players have appeared on the US World Cup roster after never playing again in college: Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh, both of whom made the World Cup squad. world 2019.

Title IX didn’t just build pipelines across college for USWNT. The model is used to help women’s soccer teams around the world. In 2021, there were 9,890 women’s soccer players in all 341 Division One universities. These players came from every country in the federation, along with 67 other nations. Together, these 9,890 players are eligible to play for at least 79 national teams. You can take a look at where these American players on the Tableau board come from courtesy of Eugene Rubinski of FMF State of Mind:

Players from all over the world saw the solid path to professional success through the American Fellowship System.

As part of its fiftieth celebration of the ninth title, ESPN has released several stories in multiple formats as part of a group called Fifty/50, featuring women who have changed the world of sports for the better. These stories are available all month long on ESPN+ along with the rest of the ESPN family networks.

As we celebrate 50 years on Thursday, we continue to lead the push for equality in all areas of football, from representation to pay and fairness. The recent agreement between USWNT, USMNT and US Soccer of a collective bargaining agreement that ensures equal payment of all top national team players has helped athletes in other countries fight for the same equal pay. The investment began with the title IX. The focus must continue as the doors continue to be opened that provide equal opportunities for women to realize their dream of not just playing football, but one day representing their country.

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