Student before athlete: Mount talk explores effects of Title IX on collegiate athletics

November 17, 2017

R. Scott Russell, assistant professor of sports management at Mount Saint Mary College, recently presented “Student-Athlete or Athlete-Student?” as part of the Mount’s iROC series.

R. Scott Russell, assistant professor of sports management at Mount Saint Mary College, recently presented “Student-Athlete or Athlete-Student?” as part of the Mount’s iROC series. 


According to R. Scott Russell, assistant professor of sports management at Mount Saint Mary College, student-athletes should balance their academic and athletic responsibilities. 

Russell explained during his November 16 talk “Student-Athlete or Athlete-Student?” that years ago, women’s collegiate teams were generally less competition-driven than their male counterparts, focusing more on physical fitness and academic success than school pride or individual accomplishment. 

Russell highlighted some of college athletics’ milestones, including the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (or NCAA). The NCAA stemmed from a committee begun by Theordore Roosevelt to establish rules for safety in football. Another highlight was the establishment of Title IX, a code that was enacted in 1972 that ensured equality for men and women at educational institutions. 

Prior to Title IX (and for a decade after its implementation), men’s teams were grouped under the NCAA while women’s teams belonged to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). While the NCAA promoted competition, public recognition of successful athletic programs, and fame for individual athletes, the AIAW model of athletic competition was derived from the perspective that sport is just one part of the overall educational process. Following the implementation of Title IX, however, which required the NCAA to provide equal opportunities in collegiate sports for men and women, many women’s teams began to abandon the AIAW for the NCAA, which offered more incentives and an opportunity for an equal playing field.

“When the NCAA successfully took over the AIAW in 1982, the principles of the AIAW were lost from collegiate athletics,” said Russell. “What if the AIAW had prevailed in its 10-year battle with the NCAA? What would collegiate athletics look like if it was governed by a body that emphasized academic excellence instead of billion-dollar television contracts?”

Russell said ongoing research shows that Title IX did have an impact on college athletics, especially in relation to proportionality, which dictates that the ratio of male to female athletes on campus should be relatively the same as the ratio of male to female students at the institution. Proportionality thus has helped the number of female athletes and teams to increase, but Russell pointed out that male athletes and teams also grew, though not as drastically, during the same time period.

The quandary for Russell comes with the drastically decreased number of females in collegiate athletic administration roles since Title IX implementation. Female coaches for female teams dropped from 90 percent to 43.4 percent since 1972, and even exclusively-female sports like softball and field hockey have a significant number of male coaches. The statistics are just as daunting when it comes to higher-level administration. Prior to 1972, more than 90 percent of women’s teams were run by female administrators. In 2016, only 22.3 percent of athletic directors are women, despite more than 58 percent of college students being female. Russell applauded Mount Saint Mary College for being one of those institutions, with Jessica Mushel being named Mount athletic director in summer 2017.

Where are collegiate athletics headed? Russell hopes that eventually, academics will be more important than athletics. He encouraged student-athletes in the audience to not lose sight of their academic goals for the sake of their athletic aspirations. 

“Be passionate about your sport, but also about academics,” Russell advised. 

Russell’s presentation was the latest in the college’s iROC series, the goal of which is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinators Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of biology, and Jennifer Park, assistant librarian for access and outreach services. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.