Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plan to Increase Scholarships Raises Questions About Title IX

As the NCAA considers a proposal by the Big Ten Conference to allow its member schools to increase athletes' scholarships to include living expenses, I am glad to read (here, in Sports Illustrated) that Title IX considerations are part of the discussion.

Currently, NCAA rules limit scholarships to tuition, fees, room & board, and books. This proposal would allow (but not require) schools to also provide assistance for transportation, food, laundry, entertainment and incidentals. The proposal is aimed to better compensate a student-athlete, who must go into his own pocket for the opportunity to participate in athletics. When you factor in that the university may generate revenue from this student's performance and that the student may be of limited means and lack the opportunity to hold a job due to time constraints of athletics, living expenses seem like a reasonable way to mitigate charges of exploitation. Moreover, given the reality that big-time college athletic programs are not know for high graduation rates, it can hardly be said that these athletes are adequately compensation by receiving a "free" degree. On the other hand, raising student-athlete scholarship amounts to cover living expenses would just contribute to the arms race mentality in college sports. If one school does it, its competitors would have to follow suit or suffer a disadvantage in recruiting. As a result, more collective money would get funneled into the revenue-generating (but not necessarily "profitable") sports of men's football and basketball, to the exclusion of other men's and women's sports.

Title IX would at least come in to play to provide equity to women's sports. Title IX regulations require schools to provide scholarship dollars in proportion to athletic participation. So increasing scholarships for certain men's sports would require a commensurate increase in women's scholarship dollars as well. Universities could comply by either increasing the number of scholarships or their amounts. Schools that already award the maximum number of scholarships in women's sports allowed by the NCAA would probably have to tack on living expenses awards to some female athletes' scholarships, if they wanted to be compliant. That's a big if, though. Women already receive less in athletic scholarships than men -- a $166 million disparity, according to the most recent figures from the Women's Sports Foundation. See also, here. It seems to me equally likely, if not more so, that this proposal would just widen the gap between male and female athletes rather than produce a collateral benefit to women.