Balancing Act: New Changes in College Sports Could Have Significant Implications for Athletes and Gender Equity

By Oguntoyinbo, Lekan | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Balancing Act: New Changes in College Sports Could Have Significant Implications for Athletes and Gender Equity


Oguntoyinbo, Lekan, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Earlier this year, four members of the University of Iowa women's field hockey team filed a Title IX complaint against their school.

The complaint was unusual for a couple of reasons. First, all but one of the players still have at least one year left on the team. Student-athletes rarely file complaints against their schools for fear that they might lose their scholarships.

Second, the complaint utilized a novel legal strategy. The students alleged that field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum was fired for using the same hard-charging coaching tactics as male coaches. By firing Griesbaum, the players contended, the university had denied them a chance to be managed by a demanding coach and possibly cost them a shot at the championship.

In a complaint filed late January with the U.S. Department of Education as well as the Chicago branch of the Office of Civil Rights, the students argued that male coaches are given more freedom to push their players emotionally and physically.

The students' attorney said that he believes this may be the first case of its kind.

The world of college athletics appears poised for some big changes that could have significant implications for gender equity.

Unfair treatment

The NCAA recently announced that universities could give stipends to parents to enable them to travel to football championships and the men's and women's basketball Final Four tournaments. It was a revolutionary decision for the NCAA, which has always maintained ironclad rules on giving financial assistance to student-athletes or their relatives.

Last year, athletes at Northwestern University received the go-ahead to form a union. The NCAA is loosening restrictions on the forms of compensation or aid that can be extended to athletes or, in some cases, even their families. More universities have also taken steps to ensure that there is more parity in the number of sports teams offered for men and women.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, a northern Virginia Democrat, introduced legislation before his term ended recently that would establish a "presidential commission on intercollegiate athletics reform." This commission would be made up of members of Congress as well as sports and education experts, and would study concerns related to the intercollegiate athletic system and offer recommendations for reform.

But several legal experts and scholars who follow Title IX college athletics issues say that many of these new steps and some of the looming changes may still not be enough to ensure gender parity.

Take the example of giving travel stipends to parents of college and basketball athletes.

"It's disproportionate and totally not in the spirit of Title IX," says Dr. Shawn Ladda, a professor of kinesiology at Manhattan College and the college's faculty athletics representative. "It will give extra benefits to about 150 male athletes and benefits to about 20 female parents. Many have said [the] NCAA is part of the problem. The NCAA is made up of institutions. The presidents and trustees need to get with the program.

"The presidents and boards of trustees have allowed athletic directors to allow cutting of women's sports and men's Olympic sports to boost football and basketball," she says. "Why do we need 110 men on these football teams? No wonder Ohio State has [a] third-string quarterback that will go into the NFL. The biggest issue here is the intent of the spirit of the law."

Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law and director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies at Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts, says a proposal was introduced a few years ago that would have resulted in football and basketball athletes receiving a $2,000 cost of living stipend.

"At first glance it might seem like something that's one off, but let's also look at this in context: often times these decisions are made without concern for gender equity," says Buzuvis. …

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