Supreme Court Decision Could Affect College Athletics

By Ben Trachtenberg
Yale Daily News (Yale U.)

(U-WIRE) NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Supreme Court action could force the National Collegiate Athletic Association to change policies on athletic scholarships, budgeting and athletic eligibility.

The Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case of R. M. Smith v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which centers on whether the NCAA, as an institution separate from its member colleges, receives federal funds in the form of dues from its members.

Federal laws prohibiting discrimination against women and minority students, known collectively as Title IX and Title VII, apply to all recipients of federal education dollars.

If the court determines that the NCAA does receive government money, it would be subject to Title IX and Title VII regulations. Such regulations could affect budgets on men's and women's sporting events, distribution of athletic scholarships and standards for athletic eligibility.

Political Science Professor Rogers Smith said that the precedent could lead to the Ivy League itself being held to the federal anti-discrimination standards. The League's academic index and budgeting policies would then be subject to government oversight.

"In so far as the members are subject to Title IX restrictions ... and the league is organized and funded by such member institutions," the league could be subject to federal regulations, Smith said.

Still, Yale athletics would likely remain fairly unchanged by the decision as Ivy League colleges do not award athletic scholarships and Yale's football and basketball teams rarely compete in NCAA championships.

"Yale's already subject to restrictions when it receives federal funds." Smith said. "It has to comply with Title IX" regardless of the status of the NCAA and the Ivy League.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Thursday that two students have already accused the NCAA of violating their civil rights on the grounds that the NCAA's use of biased standardized tests to determine athletic eligibility violates Title VII.

Tai Kwan Cureton and Leatrice Shaw, two track athletes from Philadelphia, say the NCAA unfairly prevents nonwhite students from competing in intercollegiate athletics.

The case now before the Court arose when Renee Smith, a former volleyball player at St. Bonaventure University, attempted to play intercollegiate volleyball while in graduate school. NCAA rules prohibit graduate students from playing on varsity teams, but the organization occasionally grants exceptions. Smith's case argues that the NCAA waives its restrictions more often from men than for women, and therefore violates Title IX.

Smith's brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit claimed that the NCAA "arbitrarily denied her the opportunity to play intercollegiate volleyball ... because of her gender."

After a lower court dismissed the case, the appeals court ruled that the NCAA must abide by Title IX because it receives federal funds.

"The plain language of the [Title IX] statute and regulation is quite broad and encompasses indirect recipients of federal funds," the appeals court decision said.

The NCAA asked the Supreme Court to review the case, and in October the court agreed to do so.

Title IX litigation has prompted changes at athletic departments across the country. In an effort to create parity in budgets for men's and women's athletics, colleges have used a variety of strategies -- including starting new women's teams, upgrading women's club teams to varsity status, increasing funding to women's varsity teams, decreasing funding for men's teams and abolishing men's teams in unprofitable sports such as wrestling and water polo.

Trachtenberg, Ben. "Supreme Court decision could affect college athletics." Yale Daily News. 26 Jan 1999.