Friday, April 2, 2021
March Madness Could Spark a Title IX Reckoning, The Atlantic
The gender inequality in college sports runs far deeper than a few social-media posts can reveal. As Cheryl Cooky, a professor studying sport sociology at Purdue University, told me in a recent phone conversation: “The problem is not the weight room itself, but what kind of groundwork has been laid that produced this moment where the weight-room controversy occurred. Nobody looked at that space and said, ‘Something’s not right here.’ It took someone posting on social media to bring attention to the issue.”
Although the NCAA is a nonprofit that organizes athletic tournaments for college athletes, it acts more like a professional-sports organization. And the deeply entrenched sexism in intercollegiate sports means that male athletes are treated with red-carpet fanfare, and women are treated as second-class citizens. That swag-bag gear, forinstance? The women’s paraphernalia doesn’t say march madness, because the NCAA refuses to use the name of its highly marketable men’s tournament to refer to the parallel women’s tournament, which is held at the same time. If you download the NCAA March Madness Live app, you might be under the impression that the women’s tournament doesn’t exist at all—no women’s schedule, bracket, or game highlights are available. This is the first year in which the entirety of the women’s tournament will be shown on national television, whereas the men’s tournament has been taking over airwaves for decades. And still, Sunday’s women’s championship game will be available only on ESPN, while the men’s championship game will air on CBS, a national broadcast network, making their game more widely available.
Broadcast and advertising deals are private-market decisions. But these issues involve student athletes, who are playing for schools beholden to Title IX—the statute that prohibits gender inequality at any educational institution receiving federal financial assistance (basically every school in the NCAA, via student financial aid). So is it legal that the NCAA calls its women’s tournament by a different (and far less marketable) name? Or that the broadcast deals it strikes for the men’s tournament are so much larger than those for the women’s? According to the Supreme Court’s decision in NCAA v. Smith, it is.
In 1999, the Court ruled that, although the NCAA runs sports tournaments for schools—and collects money from those schools—the league itself does not receive direct funds from the federal government. But Neena Chaudhry, the general counsel and senior adviser for education at the National Women’s Law Center, says a legal argument could be made that the NCAA should be held to Title IX when it comes to these tournaments. Chaudhry, who worked on NCAA v. Smith, has successfully argued at the state level that high schools have essentially given sports leagues controlling authority over their federally funded athletic programs.
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