The Cost of Cutting College Athletic Programs under Title IX
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Photo: Most colleges do not provide equal opportunity to participate in sports for male and female student-athletes.
Almost 50 years ago, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) passed the Title IX statute protecting all people from sex-based discrimination in educational programs and activities. Although this federal statute applies to all educational programs, Title IX issues receive the most publicity from collegiate athletics.
In order for collegiate athletic programs to be in compliance with Title IX regulations, they must meet three requirements. First, they must provide men and women equal opportunities to participate in sports.Second, male and female student-athletes must receive scholarship money proportional to participation.Third, there must be fair treatment of male and female athletes in several other areas, including practice and competition times, equipment resources, and support services.
It is commonly perceived that the NCAA has a governing power over its member institutions to enforce Title IX compliance, but there is no NCAA rule that requires programs to meet Title IX requirements. The institutions are responsible for ensuring that their athletic departments are complying with the federal law. However, only 10-20% of all NCAA member institutions are in compliance with Title IX today.
Unfortunately, Title IX issues have been more prevalent in recent months as a consequence of college programs cutting teams due to financial strains from COVID-19. Most recently, members of the University of Iowa women’s swimming and diving team filed a complaint arguing that the university does not provide fair athletic opportunities for female student-athletes. The women’s swimming and diving team will be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 season. That announcement came approximately one month before the complaint was filed.
Title IX claims are filed with the OCR, and not with the NCAA. Typically, the remedy in a Title IX action is injunctive relief and not compensatory damages. The Iowa female athletes asked the federal judge for their team to be reinstated. The Iowa Athletic Department was already not in compliance with Title IX and the elimination of the women’s swimming and diving team increases the lack of fair opportunities for female student-athletes.
Iowa is not the only school who has faced pushback from student-athletes demanding equal opportunity for all athletes. To date, there has been a total of 34 Division I women’s teams eliminated due to financial burdens created by COVID-19. This seems like a significant amount of athletic administrations willing to risk Title IX scrutiny for the sake of budgets. There are a few reasons that schools undergo Title IX backlash. First, the lack of regulation from the NCAA requiring schools to be in compliance largely contributes to their acceptance of the risk. The NCAA eliminated the Division I certification program that mandated assessment and submission of any Title IX issues. Also, athletic departments rely on their institutional insurance and are confident that they can withstand any individual Title IX lawsuit.
Student-athletes are turning to Title IX as recourse for individual relief. However, athletic departments can lean on coverage from their institution in order to remove the Title IX headache. The costs of dismissing these lawsuits is probably nominal to universities. Since there is no real threat to athletic departments facing Title IX sanctions, there appears to be a place for the NCAA to get involved in promoting and requiring equal and fair opportunities for all student-athletes.
Perhaps the NCAA governing body should reconsider the Division I certification program that required schools to assess their Title IX compliance. This process displayed their lack of compliance, which might pressure schools to think more about the effects of program cutting on fair opportunities.
Additionally, in order to prevent schools from being able to fall back on paying their way out of Title IX issues, the NCAA could consider instituting more far-reaching sanctions. These may include eligibility restrictions on conference and national championship participation. For example, if an athletic department is not in compliance with Title IX requirements or if it does prove progress towards equitable opportunities, it could be barred from bowl game and March Madness eligibility. As we know, football and men’s basketball are the financial drivers of large athletic departments. The threat of bowl game or March Madness ineligibility could very well influence programs to consider their Title IX issues more seriously.
Overall, there is still much that needs to be addressed and changed in the college athletics landscape in order for all NCAA member institutions to be Title IX compliant. With the institution of department wide regulations and sanctions mandated by the NCAA, more programs may be saved, and male and female student-athletes will receive fair and equitable opportunity and treatment that they so deserve.
 Miller, L. (Oct. 6, 2020). Op-Ed: In the decision to revive fall football, Big Ten fails to acknowledge Title IX. Retrieved from https://www.michigandaily.com/section/opinion/op-ed-decision-revive-fall-football-big-ten-fails-tackle-title-ix.
 NCAA. Title IX Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/inclusion/title-ix-frequently-asked-questions
 Lopiano, D. (Oct. 4, 2020). Why Cutting College Sports Programs Is A Bad Idea – Especially Now. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/donnalopiano/2020/10/04/why-cutting-college-sports-programs-is-a-bad-idea--especially-now/#5c9a0da653fd
 NCAA, supra.
 Lopiano, supra.
 West, J. (Sept. 25, 2020). Title IX Lawsuit Filed to Back Iowa From Eliminating Women’s Swim Team. Retrieved from https://www.si.com/college/2020/09/25/iowa-womens-swim-team-elimination-title-ix-lawsuit
 NCAA, supra.
 Legal Writers and Editors. (Jun. 20, 2016). Title IX Remedies and Criticisms. Retrieved from https://www.findlaw.com/education/discrimination-harassment-at-school/title-ix-remedies-and-criticisms.htmL
 West, supra.
 Lopiano, supra.