Have men’s teams gotten preferential treatment over women’s programs in scheduling practices and games? The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights investigated a complaint alleging such discrimination in college sports two years ago, and a federal-appeals-court ruling on Tuesday involving a separate case—this one in high-school sports—has reopened the debate.
In the latest case, in which an Indiana girls’ high-school basketball coach accuses her school of violating Title IX by giving preferential scheduling slots to boys’ games, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that scheduling discrimination in high-school sports is actionable under the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. (A district court had dismissed the case, but the appeals-court ruling allows it to proceed.)
Two years ago, the Office for Civil Rights approached the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, a Division II league with 14 members, in response to allegations of similar scheduling disparities. The office did not conclude whether it had jurisdiction over the conference, but asked the league to change its schedule while noting that it had jurisdiction over the GLIAC’s member institutions, Daniel A. Cohen, a lawyer who specializes in Title IX cases, said in an e-mail.
“Giving preferential scheduling slots to boys’ games presents Title IX problems, but the key issue involves who could be liable for such scheduling disparities,” said Cohen, an associate with Kasowitz, Benson, Torres, & Friedman, in Atlanta. “Collegiate conferences are generally responsible for scheduling, and conferences aren’t likely subject to Title IX.”
Still, the Office for Civil Rights expects equitable access to prime practice and competition times, said Janet P. Judge, a lawyer with Sports Law Associates LLC.
Other than the complaint against the Great Lakes conference, which agreed to change its scheduling, there do not appear to be other instances in which universities or collegiate conferences have been formally accused of treating women’s teams unfairly.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Jack Watford, communications director with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, said in an interview. “If any of that is going on, it hasn’t made it to us.”