The NCAA Profits Off Gender Inequality: Why Should We Trust They Are Best Equipped to Right Their Own Wrongs?

Connor Recck ’23

Contributing Writer

Amidst the 2021 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament, scholars, athletes, and activists are examining a relatively unknown Supreme Court decision handing the college athletic governing body nearly full autonomy to discriminate on the basis of sex.

As the men’s and women’s college basketball tournament for the 2020-2021 season began to ramp up, a firestorm found the NCAA drowning in controversy. As they prepared to once again host these athletic competitions, shocking videos began popping up on social media. The spark was ignited by Sedona Prince, a player on the University of Oregon’s women’s basketball team. In a video posted to TikTok, Prince exposed the training facilities provided to the men’s teams compared with the women’s teams. The women were provided with a weight room that contained nothing more than a small rack of dumbbells and some yoga mats. The men, however, enjoyed an entire gym facility that included a full squat racket, benches, barbells, and heavy plates.

It didn’t take long for more incidents to emerge online. According to Maggie Mertens, a writer for The Atlantic, a separate incident involved the food these athletes were provided. The men enjoyed a full banquet of food, including steak to shrimp, while the women received prepackaged meals. Another involved the men receiving a “swag bag” full of gear heavily marketed as “March Madness” whereas the women received minimal standard-issued merchandise without any reference to the tournament they themselves were participating in.

The visibly unequal treatment by the NCAA of its male and female athletes has once again sparked a conversation about Title IX and the extent to which it can ensure gender equity in college athletics. Over the past few weeks, activists and athletes have publicly called on NCAA officials to not only correct these inequalities but to also examine the institutional frameworks that allowed this to happen in the first place.

Title IX, passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, is one of the most well-known federal statutes mandating gender equality in schools. Specifically, all institutions that receive federal financial assistance are required to provide equal access and opportunity within academic programming for men and women. Under the umbrella of “academic programming” are college and high school athletics, which have been at the center of the statute’s most heated controversies since its passage.

If Title IX mandates gender equality in sports, why isn’t the NCAA facing a lawsuit for this behavior? Well, technically, they haven’t violated Title IX. In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Smith that because the NCAA did not receive any direct federal funding, it was not subject to Title IX compliance. Surprisingly enough, Justice Ginsburg, a standout litigator and jurist credited for decades worth of female advancement toward equality in the law, wrote the court’s majority opinion. In the context of accountability for the NCAA, Ginsburg writes, “entities that receive federal assistance, whether directly or through an intermediary, are recipients within the meaning of Title IX; entities that only benefit economically from federal assistance are not” (NCAA v. Smith 1999, 1). The NCAA has positioned itself in a particularly lucrative place. Not subject to Title IX regulations, the organization acts as a middleman between the schools that receive federal funding and the athletic competitions that produce a profit. Through the court’s jurisprudence, the NCAA is not bound by federal rules in the treatment of its male and female athletes. The organization does not receive federal funding; it simply profits off institutions that do.

Realizing the magnitude of the controversy, NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement on behalf of the organization. In response to the social media posts, Emmert said, “I want to be really clear: This is not something that should have happened and, should we ever conduct a tournament like this again, will ever happen again.” Some NCAA officials have gone so far as to defend their actions, stating the full weight room accommodations for women were to be implemented in the 3rd round of the tournament. Yet, the male athletes have enjoyed these facilities since the beginning of the tournament.

The organization has made clear the unequal treatment of female athletes is premised on the notion that these female teams cannot produce a profit comparable to the men’s teams. Although the NCAA refuses to disclose any in depth records of its financial statements, Emmert has argued the accommodations, advertising, and marketing of the men’s March Madness tournament is neither realistic nor feasible for the women’s tournament because their event operates at a loss to the organization. Economist Daniel Rascher has since refuted these claims. Testifying before the federal government’s ongoing antitrust litigation, the expert witness, through an independent analysis of the NCAA’s financial records, has concluded that women’s basketball produced $1 billion in profits during the 2018-2019 season. Many question the validity of the statements released by NCAA officials on the profitability (or apparently lack thereof, according to them) of women’s basketball, as they are an organization designed around a revenue-producing system.

Does the women’s tournament not drive up business for the NCAA compared with the men simply because the American audience isn’t interested? Doubtful. Realistically speaking, the NCAA doesn’t put nearly as much time or energy into its marketing strategy of the female teams. They do little to nothing to drive up business for women. There are no live apps, no interactive brackets, no minute-by-minute updates on female games: all strategies devised for the male athletes to drive up audience interest and ad revenue. While Emmert enjoys $2.7 million in compensation, his opinions are clear: the women should be lucky they even have a seat at the table and grateful that the organization gives them any attention at all.

If there is any substantive change to come from this situation, it will take place in the courts and the halls of Congress. I never thought I would say this, but Justice Ginsburg was wrong in NCAA v. Smith. Although the NCAA as a legal entity does not receive funding from the federal government, if its business model is fully reliant on institutions that do, it should be subject to the same regulations colleges are required to adhere to.

Situations like these arise as a direct result of the ruling from the Supreme Court. Clearly, the NCAA cannot be trusted to exercise its own discretion with ensuring gender equality; they have shown us this time and time again. If the only way organizations that profit off college athletes can be held accountable is through government regulations, I say implement them as quickly as possible. Ultimately, the NCAA v. Smith decision must be overturned. The precedent set in that case gives private companies the confidence to act as they please, as they have in many ways been given a license to discriminate. Why should female athletes suffer embarrassment and trauma as a direct result of inequities described earlier? The NCAA racks in the Benjamins because of the athleticism of these women. Denying them fair treatment under the law calls for a serious investigation into the activities and history of the organization and an ultimate reversal of the 1999 judicial ruling.

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PBPL Alumna Writes On The Future of Title IX In The Biden Administration

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

Brooke LePage ’19, a Public Policy and Law alumna. Photo courtesy of Brooke LePage.

PBPL alumna Brooke LePage ’19, a FutureEd policy associate and student at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy recently wrote for FutureEd on the future of Title IX, the landmark federal civil rights law addressing gender equity and sex-based discrimination.

LePage, who wrote her 2019 thesis on Title IX policy, analyzes in her piece the complexities of undoing the Trump administration’s rule change to Title IX enforcement and policy that was announced in the waning days of the administration.

In her piece, LePage argues for a balanced approach and a thoughtful review, noting that the Department of Education under Biden should “restore successful elements of the Obama administration’s approach to Title IX while addressing some legitimate problems identified by DeVos’s team.”

LePage encourages the new administration to include in its guidance more opportunities “to report instances of sexual harassment both to protect accusers from retaliation and so that schools can have accurate data.”

Also addressed are definitional changes, which LePage views as limiting, especially in DeVos’ definition of sexual harassment, which limits conduct to that which is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.” Under Obama, which LePage advocates a return to, sexual harassment included the broader “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

You can read LePage’s full argument in FutureEd here.

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Summer Spotlight: Olivia Louthen ’22 Explores Nexus of Policy and Journalism At Injustice Watch Internship

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

Junior Public Policy and Law Major Olivia Louthen. Photo courtesy of Olivia Louthen.

Public Policy and Law major Olivia Louthen ’22 worked this past summer at Injustice Watch, a “non-partisan, not-for-profit multimedia journalism organization” in Chicago which focuses on exposing institutional corruption and holding public agencies and individuals accountable for their actions.

Louthen worked extensively as part of her internship to prepare a voter guide on judges seeking re-election. In the State of Illinois, judges are elected. Louthen supported work on a voter guide by Injustice Watch that focused on Cook County, which includes the Chicago metropolitan area. “Voters do not generally have that information when they get to the bottom of the ballot,” added Louthen, noting that having this information readily available and accessible is critical to keeping the electorate informed.

The voting guide includes information about “financial interests, courtroom behavior, and judicial decisions.” Louthen added that one of her most memorable and valuable experiences was bringing her interest and experience in legal studies to bear in analyzing and interpreting these decisions for voters in the November election.

Louthen also had the opportunity to pursue research on particular issues and assist Injustice Watch with investigations into critical government issues. One of her primary projects this summer focused on efforts by Chicago’s police union—the Fraternal Order of Police—to add some of its members to Illinois’ Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which is responsible for investigating claims of police torture and referring egregious cases to Cook County’s Circuit Court.

Louthen’s reporting, in partnership with Adeshina Emmanuel, focused on bringing the bills that proposed this membership change to the attention of the public and sought to consider what this means from the perspective of victims of police injustice.

“Interviewing those victims was, frankly, heartbreaking,” Louthen told The Policy Voice, noting the conflicts that arise between having the police as a stakeholder in evaluating actions by other officers. The TIRC also holds some sway in seeing exonerations of incarcerated inmates because of improper policing practices and issues of profiling.

Because of her positive work with Injustice Watch this past summer, Louthen is continuing to intern over the winter break and will be looking at policing in the context of the larger Black Lives Matter movement and other racial injustice initiatives which began this past May.

Her work in Public Policy and Law at Trinity greatly influenced her time with Injustice Watch and offered her the “legal perspective” when many of her fellow interns had educational focuses in journalism. That perspective, Louthen told the Voice, was “helpful in navigating journalistic investigations that are as much about law and policy as about effective reporting.”

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PBPL Co-Sponsors Virtual Panels: A Conversation With Professor Falk and A Roundtable Discussion On Title IX at Trinity

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

This week saw two virtual educational panels as the fall semester concludes, demonstrating the Public Policy and Law Program’s commitment to continuing to offer enriching, thoughtful educational opportunities for Trinity students during the pandemic.

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The first, on Tuesday, Nov. 10, was a panel with the Program’s own Professor of the Practice in Public Policy and Law Glenn W. Falk, organized by the Trinity College Pre-Law Society. The conversation included a discussion of Professor Falk’s law school background, his own tips and recollections of the law school experience, and a thoughtful discussion of career opportunities available to students in the legal field.

The full recording of the event is available to the public here and also via the video below.

Featured In The Conversation With Professor Falk

Moderators: Pre-Law Society President Brendan W. Clark ’21 and Pre-Law Society Treasurer Pearl Rourke ’21.

Panelist: Professor of the Practice in Public Policy and Law Glenn W. Falk, Esq.

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The second, on Thursday, Nov. 12, was a roundtable discussion on Trinity’s Interim Title IX policy and the future of Title IX under the Biden administration, organized by the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, The Trinity Tripod, and Trinity’s Program on Public Values.  The discussion was led exclusively by Trinity students, many of whom are PBPL majors and enrolled in the Title IX-Changing Campus Culture course taught by Program Director Renny Fulco, and featured a diverse array of perspectives at a time when sexual assault remains a prevalent concern on-campus.

The full recording of the event is available to the public here and also via the video below.

 

Featured In The Title IX Discussion

Moderator: Brendan W. Clark ’21, Editor-in-Chief of The Trinity Tripod and Senior Undergraduate Fellow at the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

Student Panelists: SGA Senator and Student Representative to the Title IX Working Group Jaymie Bianca ’21, SGA Vice President for Communications Maddy White ’22, PBPL Major Connor Recck ’23, PBPL Major Zachary Joachim ’21, and Clare Donohoe ’22.

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Congratulations to PBPL Major Anthony Davis ’20, Fulbright ETA Recipient for Malaysia

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

Senior Public Policy and Law Major Anthony Davis. Photo courtesy of Anthony Davis.

The Public Policy and Law Department is very proud of Anthony Davis ’20, a senior Public Policy and Law major who was announced as a recipient of the U.S. Student Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) grant for Malaysia this week.

The grant allows Davis to “provide assistance to local English teachers” in Malaysia while “serving as cultural ambassadors for the United States,” Trinity reported.

Davis told Trinity that he “fundamentally believe[s] education is one of the greatest equalizers” and is “excited to lend my energies to the classroom and the Malaysian society overall.”

Public Policy and Law Program Director Renny Fulco told the College that “Anthony is intellectually engaged, passionate, and committed to social justice” and that he “believes in the transformative power of education to teach tolerance and compassion and open doors to opportunity.”

You can read more about Davis’ Fulbright award and his work educating students below or here. Congratulations again, Anthony!

Anthony Davis ’20 Awarded Fulbright Grant for Malaysia

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Student Scholarship on 1918 Influenza Featured By Trinity

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

The SATC Training Corps at Trinity College in 1918, standing in front of Seabury Hall (which at that time had doors). They were quarantined as part of the College’s response in 1918.

I had the pleasure in early April to work with the Trinity College Watkinson Archives and the College’s History Department on a digital museum documenting Trinity’s experiences and response to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Combining clippings from Tripod articles, College documents, and various bulletins and obituaries from College publications and the Hartford Courant, I have reconstructed what little we know of the impacts on Trinity and the alumni community. It is certainly safe to say that the 1918 response bears little resemblance to the Trinity experience in the present age.

While not directly policy-related, I’m pleased to share the feature here and the archive here. Together, they are important reminders of the importance of having a historical record for our College and do, so far as policy is concerned, perhaps attest to the lack of state and national responses to the 1918 Influenza. Our institution’s varied history is doubtless always important for all Trinity students to know.

Student’s Research on Trinity and 1918 Flu Pandemic is First Exhibit in Watkinson’s Virtual Museum

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