The present and future of the law in college sports

The 50th anniversary of Title IX has sparked celebration and reflection across college sports. For the Hotline, the moment in time offers an opportunity for prognostication, as well.

For all the benefits created by the groundbreaking civil rights legislation, which became the law of the land on June 23, 1972, the next chapter in the evolution of equity is vital, as well.

And it comes as a monumental shift unfolds across college sports:

Name, image and likeness compensation has changed recruiting and the allocation of resources.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on educational benefits could lead to athletes being declared employees.

The NCAA is rewriting its constitution to provide the Power Five with greater autonomy.

More men are coaching women’s sports, while the number of female athletic directors across Division I remains embarrassingly low.

To address the current state and future direction of Title IX, the Hotline reached out to four leaders in college sports:

— Washington athletic director Jen Cohen

— Pac-12 deputy commissioner Teresa Gould

— West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez

— Women Leaders in College Sports chief executive Patti Phillips

The interviews were conducted separately and have been tweaked for clarity.

— Title IX has received significant attention lately because of the 50th anniversary. Where is application of the law at the present time?

Gould: I’m excited that there’s so much conversation around the industry. In my lifetime, Title IX is the single biggest game-changer, in and beyond intercollegiate athletics. It has been transformational. The experience I had in the 1970s and 80s is very different from the one girls are having now.

Nevarez: I’m on the NCAA transformation committee, and I keep thinking, ‘Thank goodness for Title IX, but we still have so much work to do.’ Gender equity is called out in the NCAA constitution, and without Title IX, folks wouldn’t be asking about equity. What happened at the 2021 Women’s Final Four shed light on the situation. Just because the NCAA doesn’t receive federal funds, it represents the ecosystem and should comply.

Phillips: There has been progress, and that’s important to remember. Without Title IX, we wouldn’t be where we are. I wouldn’t have my job. I wouldn’t have had a career in coaching. I wouldn’t have gone to college on (a basketball) scholarship. There are thousands of those stories, and the opportunities Title IX has provided, the doors it has opened, are invaluable. I’m grateful for that, and we should celebrate that. But we aren’t done yet.

— What areas of college sports are ripe for additional progress?

Gould: The mindset around opportunity and investment still needs to be changed. Do we want leaders to comply with Title IX because they are legally required to, or do we want them to invest in Title IX because it’s the right thing to do? What’s missing is looking at women’s sports as a product. Whether it’s female student-athletes or the WNBA, we don’t want them to be seen as a charity but as a viable product that — if you build a strategy and make the investment — can become a successful business. It’s difficult to measure the potential because investment hasn’t been happening for very long. We haven’t invested the same way we have for the men’s sports. Think about the Women’s College World Series. What would that look like now if we had invested 30 or 40 years ago?

Cohen: What’s exciting is that women’s sports are more valuable to the consumer because of their growing popularity. If we keep providing more opportunity, they will develop more value and provide more revenue so that we can re-invest. There is so much upside. I look at my sons, who are 17 and 19, and all they have ever known is the amazing female athletes that have been through Washington. And my boys, because they have grown up in that environment and because they have attended or watched games, they see women athletes and women’s sports as valuable. That’s exciting. That’s something to be grateful for. And it’s something that must continue everywhere. Title IX is not a destination. It’s a work in progress.

Phillips: There’s hope from women’s organizations that we can continue to expand and move forward. There is a lot of opportunity for equity, and we aren’t there. Only 23 percent of college athletic directors are female across all NCAA divisions. In Division I, it’s just 14 percent. And in the Power Five, only six out of 65 athletic directors are women. If the leadership is going to reflect the population it serves, that number should be 50 percent.

— On that issue specifically, why aren’t more women leading major college athletic departments?

Cohen: What I’m hopeful for is that if we give women and girls the opportunities to compete and work in sports, that we’ll develop a bigger pipeline. And if there’s a bigger pipeline, we’re more likely to see the leadership numbers grow.

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