Title IX is 45 years old today, and the commitment at the University of South Carolina is evident with the success of all of its athletics programs.
“Participation in sports is a valuable educational experience,” said Athletics Director Ray Tanner. “Title IX guaranteed that women would have that experience. Women who have had the opportunity to participate have had life lessons that benefit them for years to come. I feel that it’s important for the women who wear the Garnet and Black to have a first class experience, compete for championships, and learn these life lessons.”
“It's so gratifyingly to know that our men and women receive comparable equipment and apparel, high quality coaching, first class practice and competitive venues, along with gender neutral academic support and medical care,” said Judy Van Horn, Executive Associate Athletics Director for Sport and Risk Management.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: "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."
South Carolina began offering scholarships for women’s intercollegiate athletics in 1975, and the University celebrated the 40th anniversary of that landmark in 2015 by honoring the first 18 female athletics scholarship recipients throughout that year.
“Once I found out that basketball existed at the college level, I tried out and made the basketball team at USC, and many years later came to understand that it was the implementation of Title IX that took the women's basketball program from practices in a campus armory gym, to one or two games in the Coliseum, to the first athletic scholarships for women, to salaries for coaches and a budget to operate,” said Martha Suber, who was one of South Carolina’s first 18 female athletics scholarship recipients. “As players, we didn't realize what we did not have. We were just grateful for the opportunity to be able to continue playing the sports that we loved beyond high school.”
I never want us to lose sight of where we came from and the struggles that got us to the level we are today.Martha Suber, women's basketball 1974-76
Since then, South Carolina has earned an excellent reputation for its efforts to provide a championship experience for all of its programs.
“Our nationally acclaimed outside consultant tells me that she regularly touts the University of South Carolina as a leader and role model on how to provide an equitable experience for student-athletes, regardless of gender,” Van Horn said. “We are intentional to reassess our efforts periodically using the most current legal guidance. That said, Ray Tanner is a leader in this area and ensures a culture of gender equity because it's the right thing to do. When we are discussing a new initiative, it could just as easily be one of the male administrators raising Title IX questions.”
That commitment has led to success in the playing arenas. The Gamecock women’s programs have enjoyed a great history of success, and the past academic year was a shining example as the women’s basketball team won its first NCAA National Championship, fourth straight SEC Regular Season Championship and third consecutive SEC Tournament title, while the women’s soccer team won its second SEC Regular Season Championship and advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. Six out of seven South Carolina women’s programs that compete for team NCAA championships reached their respective tournaments last year with tennis, golf, beach volleyball, and softball also advancing to the postseason.
“I am very proud to have been a member of the USC Women's Basketball Team during those early years,” Suber said. “I am extremely proud of the investment that USC has made in women's sports which has taken us from that old armory gym to the National Championship in women's basketball!”
The previous year isn’t the only year that the Gamecocks have seen success with conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances earned by all of the programs, including national championships for track and field (2002) and equestrian (2005, 2007, 2015)
Although student-athletes of this generation may not have seen the tough times encountered by their predecessors several decades ago, they still understand the significance of the advantages they now have.
“Women can participate in things now that used to be only open to men,” said former South Carolina point guard Ieasia Walker (2009-2013), who will be working as a college basketball official this season. “It shows people my age that anything is possible. Don’t limit yourself just because you’ve haven’t seen it done. Go for the big things.”
“I think that it is important that today's players be given opportunities to learn about and understand this history of women's sports,” Suber said. “It amazes me to think that in the lifetime of a college athlete today, the opportunities have been there for them since birth. I never want us to lose sight of where we came from and the struggles that got us to the level we are today.”
With all the good that has been done in the last 45 years, there is always more that can be done.
“We’ve made huge strides in the efforts of Title IX,” said basketball coach Dawn Staley. “We probably need to envision having a ‘Title X’ because we need to keep moving in the right direction in giving females an opportunity in all areas, not just in playing. As our game continues to grow, it has to grow with the gender we are coaching, so hopefully that takes place.”
“Sadly, there are still many schools at the collegiate, high school and middle school levels who are complacent and miss opportunities to come up higher as they make decisions involving facilities, staff and apparel,” Van Horn said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hectic pace of running a sports program and not take time to be deliberate to provide an equitable experience. That's why these benchmark anniversaries, such as the 45th anniversary, are special as they give us time to reflect, plan and then do something so when the 50th anniversary rolls around, we can show progress.”