In 1970, NAU joined the Big Sky Conference, which allowed the Lumberjacks - or Axers, as they were sometimes called - to compete in NCAA athletic events. This solved problems around scheduling and finding teams of equal ability to play. NAU participates in the Big Sky Conference core sports in order to maintain membership, but it can also offer additional sports. The core sports for women are basketball, cross country, golf, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, tennis and volleyball. The men's core sports are basketball, cross country, football, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and tennis. Many NAU teams have been regular season champions, with a number also achieving tournament championships and participating in NCAA tournaments.
In 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments into law. Title IX balanced opportunities and access for women within organizations that receive federal funding. This law and the budget crises of the 1970s and 1980s led NAU to drop some men's sports. NAU follows the provision in the law that requires the percentage of funds that go toward men's and women's sports to match the percentage of males and females enrolled in order to provide equal access.