The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all walks of life. Many office workers have spent over five months working from home at this point. In the medical field, everyone is taking extra precautions. Some doctors are wearing full gowns, masks, and even face shields for standard office visits. Everyone needs to pay attention to barriers that can prevent the spreading of the virus. And social distancing has become paramount.
One casualty of all these precautions has been team sports. Many youth leagues and high schools have canceled two full seasons by now. At the college level, it’s been even worse. Many schools have permanently ended some of their sports programs.
These are serious decisions and not ones that have been taken lightly. Removing a varsity sports program has all kinds of impacts for scholar-athletes, alumni, and coaches. But during a crisis, sometimes there’s no other alternative. Of course, this can’t be done haphazardly. There are rules governing athletics departments at colleges. And when these decisions are made, they must also be compliant with federal law under Title IX.
Title IX famously mandates that schools provide competitive opportunities for all students. That means that schools can’t eliminate all the sports for one gender while retaining those for another. Men and women must have equal opportunity for athletic participation under the rule of Title IX. Title IX has been responsible for many opportunities for women. But it creates a fairly complicated standard for compliance.
Both competition levels and competition opportunities must be taken into consideration. When they’re eliminating a program, schools need to make sure that no one group of students is retaining a better intensity or opportunity for competition than any other group. They need to be pretending equivalent opportunities for both men and women. Finally, the new roster of athletic programs after eliminations must pass a three-part test.
The first part of the test seeks proportional representation in men’s and women’s athletics. Failing that, the school should show a track record of efforts to expand the opportunities for the under-represented gender. The program offerings should reflect the current interests and abilities of the student body. If these tests and requirements can be met, the athletic program will be deemed in compliance with Title IX.