Gender Disparity in Coaches’ Chartered Flights at University of Iowa and Iowa State

Some good investigative reporting in Iowa led to this recent article about the gender imbalance in athletic department travel at University of Iowa and Iowa State. Both institutions benefit from wealthy donors who offer up their private planes for coaches to take on recruiting visits, to meetings, and for other work travel.  Yet these donations overwhelmingly favor the coaches of men’s teams — of UI’s 54 donated charter flights in the last year, only 1 was to the coach of a woman’s team. And it’s not like the institutions use other funds to close this gap, paying for (non-donated) charter flights for men’s teams coaches more often than charter flights for their coaches of women’s team’s.

I talked to the reporter for this story and shared some thoughts about the Title IX concerns raised by this disparity. I explained that the fact that the flights are donated does not absolve the university of the gender disparity that results from the donations. Because they benefit a university program, the donated flights are considered by law to be donations to the university. Though the donations themselves might be earmarked for a certain team or coach, the university is still responsible for the equal treatment of its men’s and women’s programs. If it uses donated money (or, as in this case, donated flights) to benefit only teams of one sex, it has to find other money to balance to provide the equivalent benefit to teams of the other sex.

There are two aspects of Title IX that may be implicated by this imbalance. First, one of the aspects of Title IX’s requirement for equal treatment of men’s and women’s teams is the quality of the coaching they receive. A coach who takes charter flights does not have to spend time driving between Iowa City and the airports in either Cedar Rapids or Moline, factoring in extra time for the security line, waiting out layovers, enduring delays or any of the other time consuming aspects of commercial travel. This leaves the coach with more time and energy for coaching duties: he is more likely to make it back for practice, he can fit in more recruiting stops into a season, he can partake of more professional development opportunities. In short, that team gets more of their coach and thus, a higher-quality coach. A university that eases the path for men’s coaches, but leaves up those obstacles for women’s coaches, is treating its male athletes better than its female ones.

Second, the disparity is sex discrimination in the terms and conditions of coaches’ employment. Because only men coach men’s teams, men disproportionately benefit from the perk of taking charter flights. The challenges of commercial travel can create personal inconveniences as well as professional ones, and male coaches alone are spared from that grief. As a result, they may have an easier time making time for family or a personal life. Maybe, if women’s coaches were paid more in base salary than men’s coaches, there would be an argument that this disparity in chartered travel does not amount employment discrimination, but of course we know that is not case.

As the article notes, University of Iowa is currently under an OCR investigation into the athletic department’s compliance with Title IX. Recruiting appears to be an area the agency is looking into, but no findings have yet been made.