March 13, 2018 10:37:05 AM
March is Women's History Month. That probably wasn't on anyone's mind Monday afternoon, when several hundred fans gathered with the Mississippi State women's basketball team to watch the NCAA Women's Tournament Selection Show.
Yet that gathering is the by-product of a significant moment in women's history.
Women's basketball is a big deal at MSU. Last year, the team went all the way to the national championship game. This year, the Bulldogs are one of the top four seeds in the tournament and no one would be surprised if the Bulldogs again play for a championship. Along the way, fans have turned out in record numbers -- the Bulldogs broke attendance records again this year, averaging more than 7,000 fans per game.
What does that have to do with the larger subject of women's history?
None of what the Bulldogs have achieved could have happened without what happened on June 23, 1972.
It was on that date that Congress passed the Education Act of 1972. Part of that act, called Title IX, said no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Mississippi State added its women's basketball program three years later. Title IX became the basis for women's college athletics as we know it today. Before Title IX, women's athletics were limited to a few sports, provided with limited funds and remained largely ignored.
Today, women compete in more than a dozen sports, with good facilities and, as we see with Mississippi State's basketball team, a large and enthusiastic following.
At the time of its passing, Title IX faced bitter criticism. University officials -- mostly men -- said the law would not help women as much as it would hurt men, the theory being that instead of adding sports to create equality, schools would simply drop some of the men's sports.
While that happened in a few cases where men's programs were eliminated to accommodate women's program, it did not turn out to be a wide-scare exercise is addition by subtraction. Today, both men's and women's athletics flourish throughout the country. Women's sports have earned the respect and support they deserve. The idea that Title IX would harm men to benefit women seems silly now.
Title IX is often remembered for how it changed the landscape of college athletics, but its greatest impact is seen not on the playing field.
A hundred years ago, women had few career options -- nurse, teacher, secretary and maybe a few other professions considered to be "appropriate" for women.
By 1972, those options had expanded, but there were still many careers that were closed to women, primarily because they did not have the access to the education that qualified them for those careers.
Title IX changed that.
Now, we find women in all fields because all fields have been open to them. All that was lacking was an opportunity.
While Mississippi State plays to a sold-out crowd this weekend, it's worth taking a moment to consider the historical context that made it possible.
On Monday, MSU Athletics Director said what the MSU women's basketball team has accomplished "Is one of the greatest moments in Mississippi State history."
He was saying more than he may have realized.
Every achievement women enjoy today, from the playing fields to the board rooms, is a tribute to women's history.
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