What if the problem isn’t that Title IX hamstrings schools from complying with funding equality between the sexes, but that the NCAA hamstrings Title IX?
The NCAA limits the number of scholarships schools can award in each sport. For example, men’s basketball teams in Division I can only award 13 scholarships per year, while women’s teams can award 15. Under Title IX, schools are supposed to spend athletic aid dollars in proportion to each gender’s participation; an unexplained disparity of more than one percentage point indicates a possible violation of the law. If a school sees that it’s underfunding women’s athletic aid, however, it can’t just freely hand out more scholarships to female athletes—that would exceed the NCAA’s per-sport scholarship caps, which would result in association sanctions, including the possible loss of more scholarships in the future.
In other words: the NCAA is potentially limiting opportunities for female athletes, and making it harder for schools to follow federal law.
Take Notre Dame, which says it is “fully funded” in women’s sports, meaning that it is giving out all of the scholarships it possibly can under the association’s caps. Nevertheless, the school has a three percent equity gap—that is, there is a three-point difference between the rate of women’s participation in sports and the rate they are awarded athletic scholarship dollars.
If Notre Dame didn’t have to follow NCAA rules, the school says, it would offer more scholarships to female athletes.
“With respect to financial aid, all 13 of our women’s intercollegiate athletic programs receive the NCAA maximum number of scholarship dollars,” Notre Dame senior associate athletic director for business Jill Bodensteiner wrote to VICE Sports in an email. In a follow-up email, she wrote, “The NCAA limits do have an impact. And yes, we would try to be ‘fully funded’ in all sports if they were increased”—as long as increases didn’t further give an advantage to Notre Dame’s sponsored men’s sports.
It’s not just Notre Dame. In 2013-14, Florida State had an 8.5-point equity gap. It would have cost the Seminoles roughly $681,000 more in women’s athletic scholarships to make things even—an amount the school’s athletic department almost certainly could have afforded.
Tough luck, ladies. Sure helps the schools’ bank accounts, though. Which is the point, of course.