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This year, the NCAA expanded the men’s basketball tournament to 68 teams, from 65. Meanwhile, the women’s tournament still includes a field of 64 teams. With so much riding on NCAA tournament berths, one has to wonder if the inequity violates Title IX.According to Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…
Typically Title IX has been used to ensure that women have equal opportunities to participate in intercollegiate athletics and is enforced on an institution-by-institution basis. What is not clear, is whether the NCAA, as a governing body, is also subjected to the Title IX mandate.
In a 1999 case (National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Smith), the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA is not subjected to Title IX just because they receive dues from institutions that receive federal funding. However, the court left open the possibility that the NCAA could be held to Title IX standards under other provisions under which they receive federal funding.
Both tournaments grant 31 automatic bids to conference champions. However, the NCAA hands out 37 at-large bids to men’s programs and only 33 at-large bids to women’s programs. At the very least, it would appear that somebody could make a case that the NCAA is violating Title IX, and at worst, they are in gross violation.
And make no mistake, there is a lot riding on these bids beyond just a shot at glory. We can look at schools like George Mason to see the value of a bid to an NCAA tournament. In the year following their Final Four run in the 2006 men’s tournament, donations to George Mason athletic programs was up 25 per cent.
While a school losing out on benefits is not a concern of Title IX, the 48 women that are being denied an equal opportunity represent schools that may be more than happy to support an expanded women’s tournament.
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