The scheduling of athletic competitions and practices in higher education is addressed by U.S. federal law as well as institutional policies of intercollegiate athletics programs. Although some financial limits may restrict the scheduling of games among athletic teams, legal constraints involving the scheduling of such events in higher education are established mainly through Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). To this end, Title IX has a major impact on interscholastic, intercollegiate, club, and intramural athletics as well as on scheduling policy regulations that have been established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In light of questions that can arise in this complex area, this entry reviews key legal issues associated with sports scheduling and programming in American colleges and universities.
Provisions of Title IX
According to Title IX, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (20 U.S.C. § 1681). In 1979, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, now the U.S. Department of Education, promulgated a policy interpretation of Title IX that led to legal limitations on sports scheduling under 34 C.F.R. § 106.41. Section 106.41 of this regulation specifically concentrates on the equitable participatory policies of athletics programs. Further, the regulation directs athletic administrators to consider the equal athletic opportunities in 10 areas, including scheduling of games and practice time (34 C.F.R. § 106.41 (c)(3)).
In order to comply with Title IX, athletic programming must meet one prong of the Title IX tripartite test. Under the first prong, institutional officials must ensure that each gender’s representation in varsity athletics is substantially proportionate to its representation in the student body. Pursuant to the second prong, if institutional officials have not achieved substantial proportionality in programming, they may demonstrate that there is a continuing history of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented gender. The third prong stipulates that institutional officials may demonstrate that they are currently accommodating all interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender.
Equitable scheduling typically implicates the third prong of the tripartite test, which requires institutional officials to show that they have taken steps to ensure that the interests and abilities of the members of the underrepresented sex have been fully and effectively accommodated. The Office of Civil Rights, which investigates and enforces Title IX compliance, noted that the third prong was used in more than two-thirds of the enforcement cases brought before its enforcement staff. Institutional policies are paramount in demonstrating that an institution has met the needs of all student-athletes and has complied with federal statutes.
When evaluating scheduling policies, athletic administrators must affirmatively address two key aspects of scheduling. The first question inquires whether scheduling policies are discriminatory in their language or effect. In other words, even though a schedule may appear to be fair, its effect may not be fair if it overlaps with the season of another sport in which student-athletes may wish to participate. The second question considers whether substantial and unjustified disparities exist between males and females in benefits, services, or opportunities, such as opportunities to use practice facilities and access to training staffs derived from scheduling. If the answers to these questions reveal discriminatory actions, then litigation could ensue. In order to better address these questions, athletic scheduling policies and procedures must comply with Title IX statutory and administrative law, which depends on five principles of equitable scheduling of playing and practice seasons. These principles include the number of competitive events that occur per sport, the number and length of practice opportunities, the time of day competitive events are scheduled, the time of day when practice opportunities are scheduled, and the opportunities to engage in preseason and postseason competition.
The NCAA addressed the preceding five principles in the institutional constitution and operating bylaws that were approved by its member institutions. Items 2.6 and 2.14 of the NCAA constitution state that the purpose of complying with these principles is to promote nondiscrimination and to minimize the time demands of sports on studentathletes to ensure that they receive a quality education. At the same time, it is important to note that the NCAA rules are not federal or state laws but regulations established to maintain order among “voluntary” member colleges and universities that belong to the NCAA. Beyond this, there are three important points to keep in mind with regard to sports programming and scheduling.
Number of Competitive Events
First, Article 17 of the NCAA operating bylaws regulates the number of competitive events per sport. The NCAA regulations categorize sports as team sports and individual sports. This distinction is important, insofar as the classifications in the policy do not categorize by gender of student-athletes but rather by the nature of the sports involved. Team sports include basketball, ice hockey, volleyball, football, softball, and baseball. The NCAA has established a maximum number of contests and dates of competition for all team and individual sports to create uniform schedules for all of its member institutions. The length of playing seasons is limited to 132 days for team sports and 144 days for individual sports. The exceptions to these limitations occur in women’s rowing and men’s and women’s track and field, which have a playing season limitation of 156 days. Moreover, Bylaw 17.1.7 stipulates the method of calculation that member institutions are required to follow to maintain compliance with NCAA regulations. Also, each sport has specific limitations on the maximum number of competitive events during the regular season. For example, football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision that was formerly known as Division I-A may not compete in more than 12 games in the regular season, while golf may not exceed 24 dates of competition. In this way, the NCAA has followed the guidelines for interpretation of compliant behavior in Title IX by evaluating the athletics program as a whole while recognizing the differences in types of sport in scheduling policies of the number of competitive events per sport.
Second, NCAA Bylaw 17.1.6 regulates the number and length of practice opportunities, the time of day competitive events are scheduled, and the time of day practice opportunities are scheduled. There are two major distinctions regarding the number and length of practice opportunities: outside of the playing season, and during the playing season.
In order to avoid superfluous distractions from educational experiences while increasing opportunities to share facilities for practice time, NCAA Bylaw 17.1.6 places time restrictions on the time that student-athletes use in practice and competitive events each week. During the playing season, sports, and of course, student-athletes, are subject to a 20-hour limitation per week and no more than four hours of practice per day. When calculating the number of hours each week, competitions count as only three hours despite the actual duration of the game. Various types of meetings count as athletically related activities subject to the 20-hour rule. Additionally, all student-athletes are required to take one day off each week with a few exceptions such as basketball, for which a team may have three competitions scheduled in one week or scheduled postseason competitions.
Outside of the playing season, or during the offseason, there are increased time limitations on scheduling practice and athletically related activities. Here all sports are required to limit practice time to eight hours per week with not more than two hours spent on skill-related workouts or watching game film. Moreover, outside of the playing season, all sports are required by the NCAA to have two days off each week from all athletically related activities. While the primary purpose of this NCAA legislation is to reduce interference with the opportunities that studentathletes have to complete quality educational programs in a manner consistent with what is available to the student bodies as a whole, the policies also account for nondiscriminatory language and widespread expectations of compliance regardless of the gender of student-athletes.
Pre- and Postseason Activities
Third, the NCAA’s scheduling rules attend to the opportunities to engage in preseason and postseason competition. Most postseason competitions are not counted in the playing season maximum number limitations previously noted. Illustrations of such team postseason competitions include football bowl games licensed by the NCAA Championships/Sports Management Cabinet and NCAA championship events in basketball, softball, baseball, and ice hockey.
Regulations for Individual Sports
Fourth, individual sports have additional limitations and flexibility that is not afforded to team sports. For instance, competitions outside of NCAA championship events, such as the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship and USA Gymnastics Collegiate national championship, are exempt from an institution’s declared playing season limitations. In addition, certified summer foreign tours, where student-athletes of some team and individual sports compete outside of the United States, are available to studentathletes regardless of gender. However, these opportunities are limited in the number of competitors per sport in order to avoid superfluous financial expenses incurred by travel. Even though many opportunities for student-athletes to engage in postseason and preseason competitions exist, Bylaw 17.1.7 certifies that only individuals who are relevant to or eligible for postseason competitions may continue to practice, which could cause some issues of discrimination based on the discretion of coaches. Nevertheless, the language of NCAA Article 17 policies is nondiscriminatory in scope and has not been challenged by litigation to date.
In sum, the policies of scheduling athletic playing and practice seasons are outlined in NCAA regulations and must adhere to the federal statutory laws included in Title IX as well as to administrative law contained in 34 C.F.R. § 106.41 (c) (3). The focus of compliance with sports scheduling laws and policies is to enhance the educational and athletic opportunities of all individuals within a nondiscriminatory educational environment for all who are involved in intercollegiate athletics.
Mario Torres and Robert Clark
See also Title IX and Athletics
Carpenter, L. J., & Acosta, R. V. (2005). Title IX. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Reynolds, G. (2003, July 11). Further clarification of intercollegiate athletics policy guidance regarding Title IX compliance. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 6, 2009, from http://www .ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/title9guidanceFinal.html
Spellings, M., & Manning, J. F. (2005, March 17). Additional clarification of intercollegiate athletics policy: Three-part test—Part three. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/title9guidanceadditional.pdf
2008-2009 NCAA Division I Manual. Indianapolis, IN: National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Code of Federal Regulations, as cited.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.