The National Collegiate Athletic Association may be forced to raise scholarship limits for women’s sports and increase spending on promoting women’s championships, depending on the outcome of a case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear during its 1998-99 session. On Sept. 29, the Court announced it would hear an appeal from the NCAA of a March ruling by the United States Third District Court of Appeals. The appellate court supported plaintiff Renee Smith’s claim that because the NCAA collects dues from member schools receiving federal assistance it is required to comply with certain federal anti-discrimination laws. Athletic Director Joe Lang declined to comment on the issue. The NCAA does not participate in any federal aid program, but instead takes in approximately $200 million a year in revenue from television royalties, championship events and various sales and services, as well as $900,000 a year in membership dues, according to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case. One particularly relevant piece of legislation, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in “any education or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” While NCAA member institutions receiving federal funds must already comply with Title IX, the appellate court’s ruling would have applied the act to the organization itself. Such a decision would have had “immediate and serious practical implications for the NCAA,” the Supreme Court wrote. Specifically, the Court determined that, were Title IX applied to the NCAA, the body could be exposed to a wider range of lawsuits by “disgruntled student athletes.” In addition, it has been suggested that the NCAA might have to raise the number of scholarships it allows member institutions to give to women’s sports. Timothy J. O’Brien, an attorney representing universities, said in a May 29 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the NCAA might have to change its limitations “if it is setting those scholarship levels in a way that discriminates against women.” However, lawyers for the NCAA have said the organization is already in compliance with Title IX, according to a Sept. 30 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Regardless of whether the NCAA is in accord with Title IX, the Court said the case raises the larger issue of the distinction between organizations receiving federal funding and those who merely benefit from such assistance. The Court ruled twelve years ago in United States Department of Transportation vs. Paralyzed Veterans of America that airlines were not subject to certain federal anti-discrimination laws simply because they used runways, for example, that were built in part with federal funds. In that case, the Court ruled that laws “like Title IX” established a “line of federal regulatory coverage between the recipient and the beneficiary.” The Supreme Court said the appellate court’s decision, if allowed to stand, would subject “countless other … organizations – national, state, and local – to claims that they, too” are forced to comply with Title IX or similar laws “because these organizations, like the NCAA, receive dues or payments from members which, in turn, may receive federal funds.” The Court said this interpretation is “in direct conflict not only with the clear intent of Congress, but also with” the Paralyzed Veterans ruling.

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