COVID-19 and Title IX: Ramifications of budget cuts on gender equity

POST DATE: 5.12.20
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tidal wave of unforeseen consequences around the globe. Most of us never could have predicted a March with a very different kind of madness, one absent sneakers squeaking on wood floors and goosebump-inducing comebacks fit for One Shining Moment.

While we all do our best to stay at home and flatten the curve, we also must consider the various scenarios that may play out as the country begins to open back up. As a result of the cancellation of the men’s and women’s postseason basketball tournaments, the NCAA expects to distribute about one-third of the originally budgeted distributions to its member institutions. Athletic departments, who rely on these funds as a vital part of their operating budgets, may also see less income in terms of gate receipts, ad revenue and donations.

Given these realities, athletic departments are reflecting on where they can trim the fat of their, in some cases, already lean budgets.

In working through these scenarios, athletic departments should take care to consider the various Title IX ramifications their decisions may have.

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Title IX is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive Federal financial assistance. Athletics programs also fall under Title IX jurisdiction. Specifically, Title IX regulations outline three basic buckets that apply to athletics:

Participation opportunities. Women and men must be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports.

Scholarships. Female and male student-athletes must receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and

“Laundry List” of Treatment Areas. Female and male student-athletes must receive equal treatment in the provisions of:

    • Equipment and supplies
    • Scheduling of games and practice times
    • Travel and daily allowance/per dime
    • Access to tutoring
    • Coaching
    • Locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities
    • Medical and training facilities and services
    • Housing and dining facilities and services
    • Publicity and promotions
    • Support services
    • Recruitment of student-athletes

    Institutions are considering everything from reducing travel budgets to rearranging scheduled opponents to, at the most extreme, eliminating sport programs all together. Even mild budget cuts can have Title IX impacts that should be fully vetted prior to finalizing any decisions.

    For example, if an institution cuts costs in its travel or marketing budgets, these decisions may affect whether male and female student-athletes receive equal treatment in the “laundry list” areas outlined above. Further, if an institution decides to only host certain sport seasons or to shorten scheduled seasons, this may have an impact on participation opportunities (the first prong of Title IX) as well as the scheduling of games treatment area (the third prong of Title IX).

    While we are certainly in uncharted territory, it’s not clear whether Title IX requirements will be relaxed simply because an institution is facing financial strain. If you have questions about Title IX related issues, Church Church Hittle + Antrim is here to help you navigate this area. Please reach out to Katie Collyer or Kelleigh Fagan with any questions.