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:
- This FoxSports report from last summer
- For the more visually-inclined, this Knight Commission graph shows the rising of athletic expenditures over time compared to institutional funding and a school’s spending on non-athlete students.
- This data-driven USA Today piece shows total revenues and expenses for NCAA Division I athletic departments, plus a breakdown of each category.
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.