A column in Forbes points out that if the football players at Northwestern are successful in forming a players’ union, their likely demands for compensation beyond the full cost of attendance would make it difficult for universities of to comply with Title IX. A few universities make money on football, and those schools use some of these proceeds to defray general athletic department costs and to partially support women’s programs. If this money is redistributed to the players, it will no longer be available to this end. A university would have to find other sources of revenue to fill that gap, or else it would risk violating Title IX’s requirement for equal treatment of men’s and women’s programs. (Cutting those women’s teams for lack of funding would also probably violate the law.) Not to mention (and the column doesn’t) the fact that paying some members of a men’s sport, but no members of a women’s sport, would also violate the equal treatment requirement.
This column ends by calling Title IX the “elephant in the room” that would need to be addressed if players were compensated. I think that, more than that, the fact this elephant exists highlights the very problem with big-time college sports. A hybrid of both for-profit business and non-profit, federally-funded education, the former makes the argument for a union seem compelling, and the latter justifies the application of a civil rights law that requires equal treatment on the basis of sex. The incompatibility of these two ideas illustrates that universities really can’t have it both ways. There are only two solutions: make college sports compatible with education, thus mooting the players’ arguments for compensation, or take college sports out of universities, thus mooting the role of Title IX. Both would drastically change big-time college sports as we know them. But that just underscores how deeply inconsistent the business of sport and the business of education actually are.