Professionalization of College Sports and Equity Concerns: Does Title IX Apply?


  • Katrina Garry, Deputy Title IX Coordinator, University of San Francisco
  • Tyrone Thomas, Partner, Holland & Knight LLP
  • Dr. Karen Weaver, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania
  • Arthur Bryant, Partner, Bailey & Glasser LLP


Professionalization of College Sports and Equity: Does Title IX Apply?

According to our experts, student-athletes being defined as employees would not foreclose applying Title IX’s regulations that apply to athletic opportunities, financial aid, and treatment areas. 

Prepared by LEAD1 Association

NCAA President Mark Emmert recently stated in an interview that Title IX has “nothing to do with employment.” Some legal experts disagree arguing that Title IX unquestionably applies to employment law in the context of our enterprise. On the other side of the coin, some experts argue that Title IX only applies to educational law. So as college sports professionalizes to a potential employment model whether through judicial, administrative, or legislative means, one perceived issue is whether Title IX applies. In that light, on Monday, our experts offered their thoughts on the potential future application of athletes as employees and Title IX. ‘

Here are some of the important takeaways:

  • Our experts unanimously believe that Title IX applies to student-athletes, regardless of whether they are defined as employees. In other words, there would be no legal justification for excluding student-athletes from a Title IX analysis who may also by virtue of administrative, judicial, or legislative outcomes be considered employees. In that light, the presence of other federal statutes applied to student-athletes, does not eliminate Title IX protection.
  • The application of Title IX to employees has been limited because Title IX provides a parallel set of protections already granted to some extent by prior federal legislation like Title VII. Title IX in the context of coaches’ compensation is enforceable by student-athletes with regard to receiving equitable coaching benefits (coaches, on the other hand, could pursue direct actions related to their pay under these other federal statutes).
  • Revenue sharing among college sports governing entities with student-athletes, whether defined as employees or not, must comply with Title IX. In that vein, athletic financial aid must remain proportional to athletic participation, as well as student-athletes receiving equitable opportunities under the various treatment areas outlined in Title IX’s regulations. Moreover, non-discriminatory rationale must be used for pay that, on its face, may not seem equitable. Federal guidance is needed, however, to clarify which regulations under Title IX would apply to revenue sharing depending upon the purpose and how money is distributed.
  • There are several possible unintended consequences of employment status such as, for example, student-athletes possibly being considered at-will, Pell grants being revoked, workers’ compensation claims, and many other issues.


More Title IX considerations can be found in the recording including the application of the federal statute and NIL.


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