In a number of school districts in Franklin County, Indiana, during high school basketball season, most of the Friday and Saturday night lights in the gymnasium were customarily reserved for the boys' basketball teams. The girls' teams were given some of the so-called "primetime" weekend spots, but only for half the number of games as the boys' teams. The girls were relegated for the most part to the much less desirable Monday through Thursday slots, where game play had to be balanced against math homework and, perhaps for potential attendees, Monday Night Football or Comedy Thursday. Amber Parker, the coach of the girls' team, tried to get more of the desirable primetime slots for the girls' team, but when she failed, she brought suit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).
Title IX was enacted in 1972, and provides in part: "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." Although the statute does not expressly mention athletics, the U.S. Department of Education regulations implementing Title IX directly target gender disparity in athletics programs. The statute and those implementing regulations have been brought to bear many times since by female athletes seeking equal treatment in the allocation of school resources for athletics. As a result, school athletics programs for women have come a long way (baby).
Courts have sung Title IX's praises, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Neal v. The Board of Trustees of the California State Universities, 198 F.3d 763, 773 (9th Cir. 1999), which had the following comment: "Title IX has enhanced, and will continue to enhance, women's opportunities to enjoy the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the many tangible benefits that flow from just being given a chance to participate in . . . athletics."
But Amber Parker didn't claim that the girls' team wasn't given a chance to participate in basketball, or even that they played fewer games tham the boys' teams. She alleged in her complaint that: "Friday and Saturday evenings are optimal game days and times because, among other reasons, the crowd potential is the largest; there is no school the following day, and thus study is not interrupted; college recruiters can more easily attend; and cheerleaders and band members are more likely to participate."
The district court rejected this claim on the ground that the scheduling disparity was not "so substantial that it denies the Plaintiffs equality of athletic opportunity." Parker v. Indiana High School Athletic Association, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107497 (S.D. Ind. 2010). But on appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The court found "these harms are not insignificant and may have the effect of discouraging girls from participating in sports in contravention of the purposes of Title IX." Parker v. Franklin County Community School Corp., 667 F.3d 910 (7th Cir. 2012). Among other things, the court concluded that "this disparate scheduling creates a cyclical effect that stifles community support, prevents the development of a fan base, and discourages females from participating in a traditionally male-dominated sport."
The case was remanded to the district court to allow the plaintiffs the opportunity to prove their claims at trial, but in October 2012, with a trial date looming, a settlement was reached. Under the resulting consent decree, the number of primetime slots in the schedule for the girls' teams will increase by two in each of the next three years, and thereafter, no more than a two-game differential will be permitted.
So pretty soon, if you're in Franklin County, Indiana on a weekend night and you drop by a school gym, there should be an even chance that you'll be watching a girls' basketball team play. Make sure you give a nice loud rah rah rah, sis boom bah!