Thursday, March 03, 2011

Booster Club Can't Pay Football Athletes' User Fees

School and city officials in Haverhill, Massachusetts understand Title IX. That is why they denied the request of the Touchdown Club, the booster club for the Haverhill High School football team, to use its fundraising proceeds to defray the cost of participating in football. This would violate Title IX, because boys would have the opportunity to play a sport for free (football) while girls would have no such option -- Haverhill charges $275 for all varsity and $175 for all freshman teams. Title IX does not consider the source of funds in determining whether it is equitably spent. If a school accepts money -- whether it be from private funds or public money, it may not use that money to fund disparate treatment for male and female students.

Touchdown Club officials were reportedly disappointed -- though not surprised -- that their request was denied. Hopefully there is a way they can use their money -- a donation of $15,000 was planned -- in a way that benefits athletics as a whole, and could maybe bring down the user fees for all students. I wonder if the boosters considered a "scholarship fund" that would cover the costs' of athletes' user fees based on their financial need, regardless of their sex and regardless of their sport. While it would be illegal to designate this fund just for football players, I don't think it would be illegal to designate the fund for "needy students," even if that criteria happened to help more football players than other athletes. As long as the boosters use sex-neutral criteria as the basis for making the awards, and boys and girls have equal opportunity to apply and be considered based on need, it would not be required that an equal number of awards be made to girls and boys. This solution would seem to be in line with the football boosters' goal of gaining back athletes who have had to drop out since the fees were implemented (the team has gone from 70 to 40 players in the last ten years). So it actually may be that there are more football players eligible the scholarship than players in other sports.

Pay-to-play is controversial in a lot of schools, as user fees operate to limit athletic participation to students who are already financially privileged. Certainly, class-based discrimination in athletics is a troubling as sex-based discrimination; but the solution to the former must not implicate the latter. I think that booster clubs have tremendous potential to help reduce financial barriers to participation, and there are opportunities to do so in a sex-neutral way.