The University of Florida has won 29 national championships since 1968. Of those championships, men’s programs have won 15 and women’s programs have won 14.
Much of this success has been recent. Florida has won a league-high 11 national championships since 2006.
The program has become one of the nation’s most successful both in men’s and women’s sports. It has done so because of continued compliance.
Compliance with Title IX, that is.
Title IX, arguably the most controversial piece of legislation to ever hit athletics, turns 40 this year. In those 40 years, Title IX has had its share of critics and supporters.
However, the numbers don’t lie.
Since its inception on June 23, 1972, the number of women participating in collegiate sports has risen tremendously.
According to the NCAA website, the NCAA began administering women’s sports in 1981. At that time, there were 74,239 female NCAA student-athletes. As of the 2010-11 season, there were 191,131 female student-athletes.
Certainly that is to be expected, but what might not be expected is the number of men participating in NCAA sports also increased during this time.
In 1981, 169,800 male student-athletes competed in athletics. In 2010-11, there were 252,946 male student-athletes.
Opportunities have increased for both genders through Title IX.
Now, female student-athletes such as Florida tennis phenom Lauren Embree or Gators softball star Michelle Moultrie can team with the likes of male student-athletes such as hoopster Kenny Boynton or baseball slugger Preston Tucker to help give UF one of the most well-rounded athletic departments in the nation.
So what exactly is Title IX?
Passed as part of the Education Amendments Acts of 1972, Title IX 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 service.”
Birch Bayh, a former United States Senator from Indiana once famously said, “Title IX is rather simple: don’t discriminate on the basis of sex.”
While that may be the gist of it, understanding the ramifications of Title IX is a bit more involved.
To meet the requirement of Title IX, schools have one of three options.
The first is the percentages of male and female athletes are substantially proportionate to the percentages of male and females enrolled.
The second is the school having a history and continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex.
The third option is a school’s athletic program fully and effectively accommodates the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.
For all intents and purposes, larger universities such as the University of Florida usually accommodate Title IX through the first option — by having the student-athlete population be representative of the academic population.
For UF, what this has often meant is adding more women’s programs.
When Title IX increased opportunities for women’s athletics on the collegiate level in 1972, the result was UF sponsoring its first intercollegiate varsity women’s tennis team during the 1972-73 season.
Florida quickly found success in the newborn program, as the Gators were perennially successful in tournaments sponsored by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
“Title IX is an excellent idea. It is benefitting youth all over America,” said UF women’s tennis coach Roland Thornqvist. “But we don’t really think about it now. We see ourselves as existing on our own merit.”
Winners of six national championships, including back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, the women’s tennis program certainly has established its place on the UF landscape.
Other programs have since followed suit.
In 2002, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said he believed that UF would add another women’s sport somewhere down the road to continue its compliance with Title IX.
Eight years later, his belief became a reality when the Florida women’s lacrosse team began playing in the spring semester of 2010. Adding a women’s lacrosse team put Florida in a unique place.
Among the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt is the only other school to feature a women’s lacrosse program.
Still, it has become one of the most popular women’s sports at UF. Playing in the American Lacrosse Conference, Florida has found a great deal of success since starting the program.
The Gators were regular season conference champions in 2011 and 2012. Also in 2012, Florida reached the Final Four before losing a heartbreaker to Syracuse.
With such a humble beginning just a few years ago, Florida women’s lacrosse has already turned into one of the country’s premiere, powerhouse programs.
The success of these two programs is representative of Florida athletics as a whole.
Like most pieces of legislation, Title IX has had its share of detractors. It is not a perfect system.
The increasing number of athletes participating, both male and female, is a positive result of Title IX.
Still, some have lost out because of it.
Florida has had to discontinue men’s programs such as wrestling and volleyball to comply with the law. The loss of these programs is an unfortunate consequence of Title IX.
However, from former athletic director Ray Graves to Foley, UF has maintained that complying with Title IX will be the priority of the university.
Because of that, Florida has one of the most decorated athletics departments, both men’s and women’s, in the nation.
Title IX will never have full support from all involved, but Florida has continued to show that a tradition of winning can be established through compliance with the rule.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in the July issue of Gator Country magazine. A total of 20,000 free copies are distributed across North Central Florida and beyond each month.