Opposition

Don Canham, UM Ath. Dir., at desk

U-M Athletic Director Don Canham, ca. 1975

Bo Schembechler

Football Coach Bo Schembechler

Across the country, athletic departments were up in arms at the passing of Title IX in 1972; however, few were more vehemently opposed than U-M’s Athletic Department.  Athletic Director Don Canham and football Coach Glenn “Bo” Schembechler were at the forefront of this opposition, insisting that Title IX would mean  the demise of intercollegiate athletics.  When he was appointed athletic director in 1968, Canham showed “a lukewarm endorsement” of women’s athletics as long as its funding did not come from the Athletic Department.[1] 

Canham is memorialized by many for his successes in transforming Michigan athletics into big business, bringing in more money than the Athletic Department had ever earned under previous directors.[2]  Yet Canham and Schembechler, who is also celebrated by many as a hero of U-M football,  both feared that Title IX requirements would  draw from their football funds.[3]  For that reason, Canham implied that to add a women’s program, multiple men’s teams would have to be dropped in order to preserve football.  When interviewed by the Daily, Canham bluntly stated: “Where does the money come from?  Nobody’s making money in athletics, it’s obvious.”[4]

Canham and Schembechler soon converted their opposition to the bill into political activism.  The two worked closely with Michigan Congressman James O’Hara as they launched a campaign "to gut the regulation, either by Congressional disapproval or by specific amendments...to weaken Title IX.”[5]  In response, women’s rights activists across the state wrote letters to advocate for the bill, which was “in trouble."[6]  In early July, Schembechleralong with the football coaches from University of Texas and University of Oklahomatook their grievances directly to the White House although President Gerald Ford (former Wolverine and football player) had already demonstrated his support for Title IX. With few exemptions, the Department of Health, Education and Wellness (HEW) required each institution to submit a detailed self-evaluation each year in which they were to prove their compliance—or lack thereof—and make any necessary proposals for improvement.[7]

Despite the adamant support of the Regents and many U-M administrators and students, “Don Canham was the University of Michigan’s Department of Athletics” and thus decisions regarding Title IX regulations at U-M were in the hands of one of its most staunch opponents.[8]  Canham’s approach to Title IX implementation was slow, and he consistently did the bare minimum in order to meet compliance standards.  Beverly Harris, the chair of the Committee to Bring About Equal Opportunities in Athletics for Females and Males at U-M, noted in a letter to the Department of Health, Education and Wellness (HEW) in 1976 that the athletic department “changed the appearance of the picture but did not change basic attitudes and/or policies that result in a second-rate status for women in the athletic programs.”[9]

HEW kept the U-M Athletic Department under close surveillance, and coaches and athletes filed several complaints against U-M throughout the years. In 1980, U-M failed in eleven areas of an on-site Title IX compliance investigation by the Department of Education, claiming exemption because of the Athletic Department’s independent financial status. That investigation was a watershed moment that forced U-M to alter its program to truly promote gender equality.[10]  Despite Canham’s unwavering opposition, U-M was legally bound to improve its women’s athletics program and did so during his tenure, including the introduction of varsity athletics and scholarships for women.  


[1] David Diles, “The History of Title IX at the University of Michigan Department of Athletics” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1988), page 103.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Steve Hook, “Officials Blast Title IX: Canham Supports NCAA Stance,” The Michigan Daily, January 14, 1979, page 1.

[4] Editor Brian Deming, “Canham talks about Title IX,” The Michigan Daily, September 5, 1975,

[5] Norma Raffel to “Dear Friend in Michigan”, July 9, 1975, Box 6, Women's Athletics Records, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[6] Ibid.

[7] David Diles, “The History of Title IX at the University of Michigan Department of Athletics” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1988).

[8] Ibid., p. 102.

[9] Beverly Harris (Chairwoman of Committee to Bring About Equal Opportunities in Athletics for Females and Males at the University of Michigan, 1976) to Bernard Rogers (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare), 30 July 1976, Box 6, Women’s Athletics Records, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[10] David Diles, “The History of Title IX at the University of Michigan Department of Athletics” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1988).