50 years of Title IX and women's sports

June 21, 2022

UNIVERSITY NEWS

On June 23, 1972, the U.S. Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities offered by institutions that receive federal funds. Title IX aimed to rectify a variety of educational inequalities, including admission quotas for women, fewer scholarships, exclusion from certain majors, and limited women’s athletics programs.

The law’s passage increased graduation rates for women, and women earned more advanced degrees. Studies also show a dramatic increase in female athletic participation at the high school and collegiate level.

“I’m part of the first generation of women that grew up with the expectation that, if I worked hard, I could get a full scholarship to compete in my sport,” said LaRee Sugg, the Spiders’ deputy athletic director and chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Sugg came to Richmond in 2001, trading the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour to become the first head coach for the new women’s golf team. She joined at a time of growing investment — and success — in women’s sports at the University, including an undefeated conference streak by the field hockey team and a strong first season by the new lacrosse program.

“There was a vision and a plan for where the golf program was going,” she said, “and everyone in the administration was on board with trying to ensure that we were successful.”

“It wasn’t the same world”

Sugg said the administrative support for women’s sports at Richmond showed how far women’s collegiate athletics have progressed under Title IX.

Sugg grew up just outside Richmond, where there were few options for elite collegiate competition for women in the late 1980s. She enrolled at UCLA, where she found equal practice resources, but also a coaching staff with limited experience.

“Most of the women’s coaches in the ’80s and early ’90s had never played high-level sports,” she said. “They weren’t golf teaching professionals at a club. They had to learn everything as they went along.”

Still, those early coaches provided a model for Sugg as she got her start at Richmond. Sugg also benefited from the experiences of Ruth Goehring, who retired from Richmond Athletics in 2007.

Goehring was a three-sport athlete at SUNY Cortland and graduated in 1971, just before the passage of Title IX.

“It wasn’t even the same world,” she said. “We had six basketball games. Nothing was funded.”

Goehring started her athletics career coaching for public K-12 schools as they moved to comply with Title IX. She then launched a competitive women’s intercollegiate program at Colgate University just as the school began admitting women, before coming to Richmond in 1981 as the coordinator of women’s sports. 

She found support from former Director of Athletics Chuck Boone, who quickly expanded her role. Goehring was able to move the women’s athletics staff and women’s basketball from Keller Hall to the Robins Center, and elevate part-time coaching positions to full-time.

“I thought, if I could get the men’s coaches to understand that if they wanted a better locker room or facilities,” she said, “we could work together and put money into building facilities that could be more accommodating to everybody.”

Today, Title IX mandates that collegiate athletic programs maintain a balanced number of male and female participating athletes. But Title IX only establishes a benchmark; true equity requires a higher bar.

"More important than technical compliance is that philosophically, we’re committed to building and supporting successful, positive athletic programs for all of Richmond’s varsity sport teams — for both men and women,” said John Hardt, vice president and director of athletics at the University. “We think it’s equally important that we strive to provide members of our field hockey program the same level of robust opportunities, quality equipment, excellent coaching and support as our football program."