Autonomy Era: What does Title IX mean for the possibility of paid college athletes?

The NCAA is entering its ‘autonomy era’, allowing the five major football conferences to determine many of their own rules regarding how athletes are treated. One major wrinkle to the new setup, though, is Title IX, the often-misunderstood federal statute promoting gender equality. To get some insight on Title IX’s potential effects, we caught up with Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the former Olympic swimming gold medalist and Chief Executive Officer of ChampionWomen.

The Lucky 97

We first asked Nancy Hogshead-Makar about one of the more hot-button issues associated with the Autonomy Era: will schools start paying college athletes above and beyond the cost of a scholarship? And how will Title IX affect that possibility?

Hogshead-Makar ran the numbers on the possibility of payment.

The proposals about paying college athletes tend to center around two sports: football and men’s basketball, as those are the two sports producing the massive amounts of advertising and television dollars that spurred this whole payment debate in the first place.

“That includes 97 men who would get these new benefits,” Hogshead-Makar says, “because there are 85 football scholarships and 12 in basketball.”

In order to comply with Title IX, Hogshead-Makar says, schools will have to provide equal benefits to 97 women, in whatever sports the school chooses.

97 students in each gender, or 194 total athletes, seems like a lot. But most major Division I college athletic departments serve upwards of 600 total athletes, with some schools close to 1000. (You can check out numbers for individual schools using this website).

“Only 97 men and women get this elite treatment,” Hogshead-Makar says, “and everyone else wouldn’t get anything.”

Spending rising faster than revenue

It’s been well documented that college athletic departments have seen their spending increase at a rate far higher than their revenue. In fact, only a handful of athletic departments in the nation turn out to be profitable at the end of the fiscal year.

You can look more into that data through the following links:

The problem with that situation is that college athletic budgets are already strapped for cash. If schools start paying for special benefits for 194 of their athletes, it could be the rest of the athletic department that foots the bill.

There’s been concern within the swimming community that paying the Lucky 97 could result in schools cutting Olympic and non-revenue sports (say… swimming & diving, for instance) to balance their budgets. That’s certainly a possibility, though everything at this point is speculation.

Another wrinkle, Hogshead-Makar says, is the fact that the NCAA has relaxed its enforcement of Title IX over the past five years. A former certification system that tested schools every 10 years and carried penalties for severe gender inequalities has been dropped. It was replaced by the Institutional Performance Program or IPP, a system Hogshead-Makar describes as a reporting system that doesn’t carry punishments to motivate schools to comply with Title IX.

This begs the obvious question of whether schools would actually extend new benefits to 97 women to match their 97 men, or simply hope to not get caught or punished by giving those benefits only to select men’s sports. Hogshead-Makar says that could be a very real possibility.

An educational model

Hogshead-Makar’s solution is for college athletics to move further away from the “for-profit” model they’ve adopted and back towards the educational model that used to define college sports.

“College sports are funded in many ways, but one of them is our tax dollars,” Hogshead-Makar says. “We do this because it’s an investment in our future.”

Hogshead-Makar points to large amounts of research showing that “sports cause kids to get more out of their education, make them more likely to get into the workforce, and teach them skills that make them productive workers.” That, she says, is the reason we first saw college sports as an institution worth funding, and it’s a model we should return to.

In an ESPNW article last year, Hogshead-Makar details her disagreement with the “for-profit” model, noting that if college athletics truly move to a for-profit system complete with unionized and salaried athletes, college athletic departments should technically lose various benefits, such as:

  • Student fees money from their respective universities
  • Tax deductions for donors
  • Facilities being built with tax-free bonds

Hogshead-Makar says that schools are currently trying to take in the best of both worlds, organizing college sports for maximum profits while still reaping the tax benefits of an educational model. But further steps towards a profit model, she says, could jeopardize that.

A new setting for elite athletics

Hogshead-Makar acknowledges that steps back towards an educational model could make college athletics a less ideal place for athletes truly in the elite level of their respective sports. In fact, she experienced this firsthand as a standout swimmer for the Duke Blue Devils.

“In order to make the Olympics, I had to leave Duke,” Hogshead-Makar says, noting the difficulty in trying to balance a full course load with the training required to be the world’s best in a sport.

“The more we move to this model where everything is rewarded only based on winning, the more athletes are required to train to the detriment of their grades,” she says.

Young college athletes are asked to spend more and more time practicing their sport, Hogshead-Makar says, while still being expected to keep up in a rigorous academic environment, often at schools that are excellent athletically but also very challenging academically.

“We expect athletes, frankly unprepared athletes, to do this, and only very few can,” she says. “It’s child abuse. It’s athlete abuse.”

Title IX and men

Oft-maligned by those who see it as a detriment to men’s athletics, Title IX should actually motivate gender equality advocates to promote men’s sports, Hogshead-Makar says.

“Title IX gets its power from how well men are treated,” she says. Because Title IX only requires that women are given the same benefits as their male counterparts, making college athletics better for men should raise the floor for women as well, according to Hogshead-Makar. “Title IX is only strong for women if programs are strong for men.”

Because of that, Hogshead-Makar opposes paying college football and basketball players, something she says will not benefit – and perhaps actually hurt – the “vast majority of male athletes and the vast majority of female athletes.”

“Title IX often draws the battle lines between men and women, and not between revenue sports and non-revenue sports,” she says.

“Two sports are treated like royalty at the expense of everyone else.” And a move further towards a for-profit model, she says, could exacerbate that even further.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Hogshead-Makar says costs continue to rise, so one solution would be to give 97 women scholarships to attend school but cut their sports programs to save the costs of non-revenue sports. This way, they would meet Title IX and not be losing tons of money every year on non-revenue sports. Forgive me, but I work for a multi-national company riddled with bean counters who can squeeze pennies out of a block of granite … and this approach would be one of their cost-cutting ideas. Financially and legally, it makes sense to just pay 97 women to attend school but not incur the costs of their non-revenue sports (men too). If you know any bean counters, this is how they think… Read more »

9 years ago

Big time college sports are a TV program, first and last. They exist solely to provide a certain number of hours of live programming to the networks. Why else do you have a game like San Diego State at Rutgers on a Tuesday or Wednesday night?

I also noticed that a student who is in school on a fine arts scholarship is not prohibited from getting paid for being in the symphony orchestra, or appearing in a TV commercial. The idea that we have to preserve “amateur” athletes is the proverbial buck naked emperor.

Coach Andy
9 years ago

This is the same woman,who at every turn, proclaims it is all about fairness. Then when swim teams get dropped because of said fairness she disappears into her “no comment” box. As demonstrated with the JMU men’s team. That football team is still good and fully funded. the women get their team and cash. Thanks Nancy! ooops a subpoena just arrived.

9 years ago

Fine article with some good points by Hogshead-Makar and some from the comment section. I believe Student Athletes should not be paid but should be allowed to earn money. As you know for years Student Athletes were not allowed to work if they were on scholarship. Then they weren’t allowed to work during their competitive season.
Interestingly enough the subject of paying students who produce revenue for their University has already been addressed. During the 1970’s and 80’s students were producing Computer programs that their schools were gaining Patents to and selling them for profit. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 addressed this problem and created a mechanism so that Students could receive compensation for their work. Without… Read more »

Dismal Outlook
9 years ago

Worst than having schools dropping scholarships for swimmers, is having schools choosing not to keep a full time Coach and keep offering the sport without scholarships. There are several colleges (most D-3) that operates with no athletic scholarships and still able to offer swimming and keep high-level swimmers in the water after high school. It seems like D-3 national cuts are getting faster in a faster pace than the other divisions and that proves that swimming can still be strong in this country without scholarships.
The problem is that we keep seeing division 1 teams dropping swimming because they can’t keep up with the super powers that have a fully funded swimming program. It seems like that happened with… Read more »

9 years ago

Isn’t it contrary to title IX’s purpose to cut funding to have a men’s swim team with little to no funding and a women’s team to be fully funded? It’s very frustrating to see that happen to many programs when trying to get recruited and earn a scholarship.

Reply to  Anonymous
9 years ago


These are the unintended consequences of another federal government decree. Programs will be cut and there will be fewer opportunities for all swimmers, male and female. All done in the name of “fairness.”

9 years ago

Speaking of Title IX and female swimmers…

Will swimmers be allowed to accept prize money now? This antiquated notion of amateurism has a bigger effect on the high school age female swimmers trying to maintain NCAA eligibility and hurts their income potential more severly than their male counterparts.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

Read More »