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Title IX: 40 years of progress?

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Title IX: 40 years of progress?

The facts are clear and indisputable. Since Title IX was adopted in 1972, 40 years ago, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex has dramatically changed the course of education for female students in athletics and academics in the United States.

In 1971 before Title IX, women earned less than 10 percent of law and medical degrees and only 13 percent of doctoral degrees. Only 1 in 27 participated in high school sports. There was virtually no money available for college scholarships. The Illinois High School Association didn't sponsor any sports for girls.

Things sure have changed. By 2001, 1 in 2.5, or 2.8 million girls were participating in high school sports. The number of girls competing in college sports increased from 32,000 in 1971 to 150,000 in 2012. There is 1 million available for scholarships and the IHSA sponsors 15 competitive activities for girls, 14 for boys.

But a gender gap still exists. Women hold fewer management positions than men and earn only 77 cents for every dollar that a male counterpart earns. There are 1.3 million fewer girls participating in high school sports. And that doesn't take into account who's watching.

Steve Tucker and Dave Power have been observing girls sports in Illinois and around the country since the 1970s--Tucker as an editorreporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Power as basketball coach at Proviso East, Proviso West, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Fenwick.

They freely acknowledge the many pluses of Title IX. Power has sent 40 girls to college on scholarship. Girls have opportunities to go to college to compete in such sports as field hockey, rugby, lacrosse and bowling, activities that didn't exist at the time that Title IX was enacted.

"Title IX has given girls almost unlimited opportunities to participate on a team," Power said. "There are more sports, more opportunities, more scholarships. It has opened up a lot of pathways and doors that weren't open before. Girls have learned lifelong lessons that carry over into life beyond sports."

Power recalls the pre-Title IX era when girls participated in the Girls Athletic Association (GAA), which amounted to intramural competition. The Illinois High School Association didn't sponsor any championship activities for girls, only boys.

"There was always one girl in every school, called a Tom Boy, who was more athletic than other girls and even some boys and she competed with her older brothers and mixed it up with the boys in football, basketball and baseball. When Title IX began, she could take her team quite a way, like Pam Gant or Kathy Boswell or Tina Hutchinson or Jackie Joyner-Kersee. But that won't fly today.

"In those days, there was no athleticism. The skill set was very low. In basketball, nobody could make a free throw. That's what is different today. Now each team has four or five really good players. One great player isn't enough to take a team Downstate. The game is more uptempo. There is more athleticism, more good fundamentals, more skills."

But Power also sees a negative side. He describes a "glut in sports" that is created by parents who, frustrated that their daughter doesn't excel in one sport, find another sport that she does excel in, then organize a team. "That is what is hurting girls sports," he said.

"In girls programs, they don't cut so they keep 110-120 girls in a program, 40-50 on a team. There are too many sports and so many coaches are trying to get girls to play them full-time. In the old days, kids played more than one sport. Today, specialization is emphasized. More and more sports are popping up."

Power sees some sports booming while others are declining. Some teams boast such large numbers that many girls can't play or see little playing time. At Fenwick, Power said coaches share athletes, allowing them to participate in more than one sport. But many schools persuade girls to compete in only one sport, like a club sport.

He claims Fenwick basketball is thriving. He keeps only 15 players on the varsity. In 20 years at the Oak Park school, he has won over 400 games and two state championships.

"The game is still great, better than ever, better skills and athleticism and fundamentals, maybe too physical," he said. "From a team point of view, everything is going well. But are we producing the number of super stars or great players. Something is amiss. Maybe it's because we are producing a number of girls who are very good but not great. We're not seeing any more Candace Parkers or Devereaux Peters or Tricia Listons."

Power believes girls basketball is losing potentially great players because there are so many other avenues for them to take. "Kids go where they can get a college scholarship, where their best chance is. They are influenced by their families. For some, it's a status figure. Now it's a driving force," he said.

Tucker counts empty seats. He said he isn't sure that Title IX has turned out exactly the way the organizers and legislators envisioned it. He notes how it has impacted on college sports--how many programs are operating in the black?--and how attendance figures for high school girls and boys sports have declined.

"The biggest part is acceptance," Tucker said. "It is there and people do it. But girls softball, basketball and volleyball isn't like what they do for boys...no cheerleaders, no concessions. Very rarely do you see high schools conduct dances or other social activities after girls games like they do for boys games.

"Yes, there are scholarships for girls, which is why Title IX was created but it hasn't put people in the seats. There is not a huge fan base for girls sports, just family and friends and fans. At a boys football or basketball game, there is a social aspect to it, not with girls sports.

"Girls sports haven't found a niche with the public. There is no "oh boy, the girls are playing" attitude, even within their own community, high school or college. I don't see a lot of kids going to girls games."

Tucker also points out that Title IX has been a financial drain on high school and college programs. With the addition of so many more sports and so many participants, there are fewer qualified coaches. Budgets are being stretched. Who pays for all the equipment and facilities?

"It is good to have so many options but it has taken its toll," Tucker said. "Schools are strapped financially. Some schools are forced to eliminate some sports and cut back on coaches."

Colleges have cut back, too. Because of Title IX, some schools have cut wrestling and other non-revenue sports. In women's basketball, Tennessee, Connecticut and Notre Dame have done well. DePaul averages under 3,000 at home, fewer than the Northwestern men's team that hasn't qualified for the NCAA tournament in its history.

"After 40 years, It is a big disappointment," Tucker said. "It is the nature of society today. Boys sports aren't drawing as many spectators as they once did. There are more things to do and more things pulling at people to do. Remember the old Chicago Hustle, the women's professional basketball team in the late 1970s and early 1980s? They generated more interest than anyone now. And they're gone and forgotten."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.