Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits all colleges and universities that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex in its programs and activities, including athletics.
When a university sponsors an intercollegiate athletics program, it must provide equal athletic opportunities for women and men. Schools with varsity programs must provide equal access to opportunities to women and men, and ensure that men’s and women’s teams are treated equally regarding resources, facilities and services.
Based on regulations and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, universities can demonstrate the compliance of varsity athletics programs with Title IX in different ways.
Brown does so by ensuring that the proportion of varsity athletics opportunities offered to women corresponds with the percentage of Brown undergraduate students who are women, and likewise for men — a concept called substantial proportionality.
Universities are afforded some variance between the gender breakdown of the undergraduate population and the portion of female or male varsity athletic participation opportunities. Brown’s approach is guided by the outcome of a 1992 federal lawsuit, Cohen v. Brown, in which the court found that women athletes were underrepresented at Brown compared to the number of women undergraduates.
Based on the terms of a 1998 settlement agreement that ended the case, the University agreed to maintain no more than a 3.5% variance between the percentage of women in the undergraduate population and the percentage of varsity athletic participation opportunities for women. Brown also agreed that it would further decrease this cap to 2.25% if it made one of several changes to its varsity athletics, including the elimination of any existing women’s or coed varsity team.