NCAA and Title IX Are Fine As Is

NCAA and Title IX Are Fine As Is
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Is Chuck Ross right in that we should "Blame Title IX for NCAA's Financial Woes"?

Yes, women's sports are less popular and profitable than men's basketball and football. As Mr. Ross notes, most women's programs actually lose money, and he cites a report published in 2011 by the NCAA that addressed Title IX as an issue prohibiting compensation for student-athletes.

The report discusses schools' objections to legislation allowing student-athletes to receive money in addition to a full scholarship. Or, if the student does not receive a full scholarship, they can receive money up to the value of a full scholarship without it counting as a scholarship. Before the report explores ways in which the legislation could be altered to allow schools to maintain Title IX compliance, it drops this nugget: "Other schools who objected to the legislation stated they can't afford the additional expense but feel it will be necessary to find the money to pay for it in order to compete for recruits."

While the Title IX issues are framed in terms of ways schools hope to maintain compliance with the rule, there is no solution put forth as to how those schools that can't afford to pay will remain competitive. When we watch the NCAA Tournament or the BCS bowls, we see a handful of schools making millions from athletes who don't get paid, and we like to get a little riled up and believe there is some sort of unethical exploitation at work. But what about the other 300 NCAA Division I schools? Ross closes with the lament: "It would be nice to someday pay NCAA players whose talent and hard work benefit the schools, coaches, students, and alumni." What Ross doesn't say is: "It would be nice to someday pay NCAA players."

Wait. If we're only worried about the players whose talent and hard work benefit the schools, coaches, students, and alumni, we're talking about the top players on men's basketball and football teams. And those students already get paid. They get paid in scholarships, clothing, housing, food, transportation, and a national stage from which they can step into the pros.

We're supposed to be concerned because these schools are subsidizing their programs using student fees and school funds, and Ross contends that Title IX is to blame because it's draining so much money from schools' budgets. But go to USA Today's financial data and take a closer look at one of these schools suffering under the burden of women's sports, Ross' alma mater Wichita State. Wichita State's total subsidy in 2010 was $6,608,726, about 33 percent of all revenue. The school's expenses breakdown was thus: $2.4 million in scholarships, $6.3 million to coaching staff, $900,000 to facilities, and $9 million for "other expenses," a nebulous category that includes severance payments to past coaches and staff, recruiting, fundraising and marketing costs, conference dues, and guarantees paid to other schools.

Let's suppose that the expenses of running Wichita State's women's basketball program in 2010, $1.45 million, is spread evenly across those four main categories. That's $362,500 each on scholarships, coaching, facilities, and other. Now imagine Ross' ideal world where Wichita State could choose to spend nothing on women's basketball. They would spend, then, $2.1 million in scholarships, $5.9 million to coaching staff, $540,000 on facilities, and $8.7 on other. With revenue of just $11.8 million, excluding student fees, school funds, and women's basketball, Wichita State would still find itself a $7 million subsidy short of breaking even.

Let's be realistic: women's basketball is not a financial burden on Wichita State. Men's basketball is.

I'm willing to concede that Title IX could be an obstacle to increasing compensation for student-athletes. But I also contend that the athletes who do bring in the most money already are getting paid in the form of scholarships and other per diem. And that's not to mention illegal gifts and that whole mess, which I suppose falls under "other expenses." So if we do just want to "pay NCAA players whose talent and hard work benefit the schools," we're already there.

I'm also willing to admit that if we are going to pay all student-athletes, and not just Ross' profitable athletes, the 125 players on a college football team might be a bigger problem than the women's basketball team. Under the legislation discussed by the NCAA in the report Ross cited, every full-scholarship athlete could get $2,000 extra in compensation, and every athlete below a full scholarship could get extra compensation to the point where they effectively have a full scholarship. How many schools outside of the top tier can afford that?

Factually speaking, for a school like Texas A&M that lost $2.8 million on women's basketball in 2010 per the Bloomberg report mentioned, Title IX is a financial drain, if you only consider the one sport. But $2.8 million is miniscule beside the school's total athletics revenue of $82.7 million that year, and expenses of nearly $76 million, close to $60 million of which comes just from coaching staff and other expenses. And while Ross was concerned about school budgets and using tuition, fees, and school funds to pay for sports, Texas A&M (no subsidy in 2010), Texas, Michigan State and most of the other schools cited as having the costliest women's sports programs are also the schools with the smallest subsidies.

Ross himself, in his article, negates his own point. He writes in criticism of Nick Gillespie that "libertarians [...] discount the noneconomic benefits of moral and civic pride" that comes from a program's success. And then Ross goes on to discount noneconomic benefits and enumerate the various ways in which women's sports are economic burdens on schools and to blame Title IX for a lack of maximized profitability in collegiate athletics departments. Collegiate sports are more than profit-earning ventures, and it is disingenuous to single out women's sports and Title IX as a financial burden when spending on women's programs makes up a fraction of a school's overall athletics spending.

Brian Colella is an associate editor of RealClearSports.

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