Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cost-of-Living Stipends Raise Gender Equity Challenges

On August 1, a new NCAA rule will take effect that allows college athletic programs in the five "power" conferences to increase athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance by providing athletes with a stipend to cover living expenses beyond tuition, books, and room. Will these new benefits to college athletes be distributed in compliance with Title IX?  If one institution's plans are any indication, it's not looking good for gender equity.

University of Nevada Las Vegas reports that it is committed to funding stipends for athletes participating in football and men's and women's basketball.  That means 98 men will benefit (85 scholarship football players and 13 basketball) compared to only 15 women. The university also reports that the average stipend award (which is not necessarily the same for each player but varies to reflect their own individualized costs) is $4500. That's amounts to a dollar-figure disparity of about $373,500 in favor of men's athletics at a university that already allocates 59% of its athletic financial aid resources to men's teams. 

In contrast, some schools plan to award the stipend to full-scholarship athletes in every sport, something that comes closer to equitable since the NCAA has women's volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis  (along with football and men's and women's basketball) to be full-scholarship instead of partial-scholarship (i.e., "equivalency") sports.  Some schools have also suggested they may award partial stipends to those on partial scholarships. 

These diverse approaches suggest a need for the NCAA and the power five conferences themselves to ensure that all member institutions are factoring gender equity in to their decision to award stipends, or, alternatively, that the Office for Civil Rights clarify an institution's compliance obligation under Title IX.  Such guidance could treat stipends like other athletic financial aid that is regulated by Title IX, and  requires the dollar figure amount be proportionate to the breakdown of male or female athletes.  Alternatively, given that the stipend amounts are individualized to each athlete taking into account factors other than sex, I think it would also be reasonable to instead require that the number of stipends (comparing full and partial separately) be equitable between the sexes.  Either way, however, it seems clear that athletic departments are not going to spontaneously comply with Title IX, and that guidance of some kind is in order.