On Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. EST, in Boston, there was a tip-off. It wasn’t between Florida and UCLA; there was no almost-hometown team to root for; but still, in living rooms across the nation little girls and a bunch of other fans tuned in to watch the women’s NCAA championship game between Maryland and Duke. And they weren’t disappointed.

It was a sight to see. Even when Duke was up by 13 and it didn’t seem like Maryland had a shot at pulling it back within a reasonable distance, there was still something tremendous happening in the TD Banknorth Garden. Every time the cameras pulled back to go to commercial or to visit the commentators during a timeout, there was the arena, completely full, up to the nosebleed sections. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. It was the 25th anniversary of the women’s NCAA tournament and Duke and Maryland were throwing a huge party.

And then, just to make it more interesting, with about six seconds left on the clock, Maryland’s freshman point guard, Kristi Toliver, dribbled to the right wing and sunk a three-pointer over the outstretched arms of 6’7” Alison Bales. It went into overtime and Maryland won the game they just weren’t supposed to win. It was as exciting as college basketball gets, as exciting as many hoped the UCLA, Florida game would have been the night before.

About 15 years ago, I sat in the Los Angeles Sports Arena and watched Stanford win the women’s national championship. I kicked my legs over the seat in front of me, because there was no one there. I munched on popcorn in an arena that wasn’t even halfway full and thought it was the biggest game I’d ever see.

So what has changed? Well, sure, women have a professional league now in the WNBA. And then there’s the fact that, ever so slowly, women are starting to play above the rim (did anyone catch Tennessee’s Candace Parker dunk twice against Army?). But, really, most of this progress is just the organic evolution of women’s sports and should be credited to a little law that passed in 1972, called Title IX.

On college varsity teams, there are now five times as many women as there were in 1972 because Title IX said that any school that receives federal funds cannot discriminate in any area based on gender. Or, in other words, you’ve got to give the girls as many chances to play as the boys.

It sounds reasonable, right? Well, that hasn’t stopped detractors from trying to weaken the law throughout the entire course of its life.

Most recently, in March of 2003, the Department of Education issued a new Title IX policy under the guise of a \”Clarification\” that could have detrimental effects on all of the progress women’s sports have made thus far. Under this clarification, schools can now claim they are providing women and girls with equal opportunities to play sports based on results from an e-mail survey of female students\’ interests in sports: Which is similar to saying, at a co-ed public university, that if enough males don’t express interest in biology via an e-mail survey, the school does not need to provide the men with the opportunity to take biology.