Washington (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the Obama administration is changing the policy that governs gender equality in sports by eliminating what some women's rights supporters claim was a Bush administration loophole in compliance.
The change is a reaffirmation of the government's commitment to providing women with full and equal opportunities in education and sports, said Biden and women who have benefited from the policy, known as Title IX.
"What has happened today is, I think, tremendous for girls and women and the future of their participation," said Susan Bassett, the athletic director at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"We have a long way to go still, and we want to take away every barrier that exists," Biden said in announcing the policy change.
The Bush administration loophole "gave some an excuse" to avoid strict adherence to the spirit of Title IX, Biden said. Now, he said, that loophole "is wiped out."
The 1972 Title IX amendment mandated gender equity in education and sports programs at educational institutions receiving federal funds.
To prove they were in compliance, universities had to adhere to one of three requirements. They had to show that the proportion of male and female students participating in sports at the university was in line with the proportion of enrolled male and female students; that the university was expanding opportunities for women students in athletics; or that the university was meeting the athletic abilities and interests of women students.
In 2005, the administration of former President George W. Bush changed the third requirement, allowing the university to prove it was meeting the athletic interests of women by carrying out surveys of students' interest and abilities in sports.
However, the NCAA and women's sports advocates pointed out that a low response to the surveys could be interpreted as indicating a lack of interest in sports when actually it could indicate a lack of availability of sports activities at the institution.
Then-NCAA President Myles Brand immediately criticized the Bush administration's decision, and some education administrators were believed to have ignored the shift.
On Tuesday, the NCAA's interim president, Jim Isch, praised the government for "once again giving NCAA colleges and universities the opportunity to more accurately determine the interest in women's athletics on their campuses."
"Much progress has been made over the past 38 years in women's athletics participation," Isch said in a written statement. "Returning to the [prior] standard of measuring interest in women's sports will help ensure that continued progress is made and future generations of young women and men will have equal opportunities."
Bassett said one reason for the 2005 change was to protect smaller men's sports such as swimming and wrestling that had their resources cut as universities shifted funding to comply with Title IX.
"That was never the intent of Title IX," she said of forcing cuts in men's sports. Bassett called the 2005 change a political move that sought to "stem the tide of what had kind of happened to some of these male sports."
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 43 percent of college graduates were women in 1970, before Title IX was passed. In 2000, women were 56.7 percent of college graduates.
Today, college enrollment is 55 percent female, but only 43 percent of college athletes are women. In high schools, 49 percent of students are female but they hold only 41 percent of the spots on sports teams.
The National Organization for Women says 32,000 women played on intercollegiate sports teams prior to Title IX; the figure is 150,000 now.
"There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic, and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a White House statement. "Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs -- and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right."
At Tuesday's announcement, Duke University basketball player Joy Cheek -- who worked as an intern in Biden's office -- introduced the vice president and presented herself as an example of the benefits of Title IX.
Cheek has been drafted to play in the Women's National Basketball Association and is preparing to graduate from Duke.
"My great experience was possible because of Title IX," she said.
CNN's Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.