Monday, March 09, 2015

"Co-Champions" in Connecticut Raising Title IX Concerns

Champion.  Noun. "A person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place."   Well -- usually.  In Connecticut yesterday, two girls' ice hockey teams squared off to determine the state champion.  After three periods of regulation play, the score between the team from Simsbury and the team from East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor was tied 2-2.  So they played a period of "sudden death" overtime, in which, if either team had scored, the game would have ended.  But no one scored.  So they played another overtime period.  Still, no one scored.  Then, as the teams geared up for a third overtime period, officials told the teams to line up on blue lines so they could be awarded co-champions. 

As ESPN-W reports, the decision not to let the game continue until there was a winner caused confusion, surprise and disappointment.  It not only departed from the expectations that athletes generally have about the ending of a championship game -- but apparently, from the rules for determining this particular championship that had been circulated to the teams ahead of time: "eight minute sudden death overtimes until the game is decided."  In addition to disappointing the players involved, the situation has also raised Title IX concerns. For one thing, there is reportedly good reason to believe that the girls' state championship game ended without a winner so that the later-scheduled boys' game, a conference championship, could begin on time. And many believe that if the situation were reversed, a boys' state championships would never have been allowed to end without a winner. 

Title IX requires that schools provide boys and girls with athletic opportunities of similar quality.  One factor of quality, as specified in the regulations, is the  scheduling of competitions.  For example, courts have determined that the practice of depriving girls of the opportunity to play games during the "prime time" (usually, weekend and evening times) violates Title IX because it demotes girls' sports to a second-class status.  The regulations also specify that girls and boys should have access to athletic facilities of equal quality.  For example, some states hold high school championships at a large premier arena, such as a state university.  If only boys' teams have access to this high level of quality (see, e.g.), that would violate Title IX.  

What happened in Connecticut yesterday could arguably violate Title IX, either as an example of unequal scheduling or as an example of unequal access to facilities.  If Connecticut schools schedule the boys state championship at a time of day, e.g., evening, when the game can be played to its conclusion, but the girls, scheduled during the day, have to stop early to accommodate the next game, then there is inequity in the scheduling of competitions.  Similarly, if the boys' state championship is held at a rink that does allow adequate time for the game, but the girls' state championship is hosted at rink that is not able to provide adequate time, the latter rink is a facility of inferior quality.  

Yesterday's championship could have either been held at a different location---one that could accommodate a complete game---or it could have been allocated a different time period--i.e., a sufficiently long enough one to allow the game to conclude.  If it is not possible to make those kinds of accommodations to both boys' and girls' championship games in the same year, schools could agree to provide the better facility/schedule to the girls' championship one year and to the boys' the next. Alternatively, the schools could have imposed a rule that shortens the time it takes to play a championship game --boys' and girls' -- such as by ending it by penalty shots after a certain number of evenly-matched overtimes, so that they both fit in the time and place allotted to them.  Title IX does not mandate how schools provide equal treatment to girls' and boys' athletic programs, only that they do.

Hopefully the schools in Connecticut that participate in girls' hockey learn from yesterday's mistake and ensure that future girls' championships receive the equal respect they deserve and the equal treatment the law requires.