Title IX requires whatever additional medical and educational benefits Northwestern football players—and those at other universities forming unions negotiate—be extended to athletes in other sports with equal aggregate amounts spent on men and women. The expense could easily destroy the financial viability of many athletic programs, and cause universities to drop many more men’s sports to maintain gender balance.
The NLRB ruling only applies to private universities, but public institutions would be compelled by competition to offer similar benefits to top athletes.
Perhaps most significantly, the NLRB’s decision will greatly aid plaintiffs in two pending antitrust suits that seek to break NCAA rules prohibiting salaries and permitting universities to use player images and names in endorsements and promotions without compensation.
Those suits have the potential to do to college sports what free agency did to professional football, baseball and basketball, after the courts struck down owners’ monopoly practices similar to current NCAA rules.
The top 30 or 40 programs in each college sport will be able to pay top salaries to attract the best athletes, and the other universities will not be able to effectively compete.
Title IX would compel universities to pay women athletes what they pay men in football, basketball and other sports, and this would bankrupt virtually all Division I athletic programs.
The solution may be to permit the top 30 or 40 major universities to form football and basketball teams “affiliated” but legally separate from their institutions. Those private corporations could partner with a major pro franchise, be financed by game day revenues, TV rights and contributions from their pro team, and pay universities rent and royalties.
Pay those athletes, offer the opportunity to earn a degree, but don’t require them to enroll if they are not capable or disinclined. By disengaging those elite college football and basketball players from university activities, the potential to corrupt admissions and faculty would be greatly reduced, and a broader range of gifted young athletes would have the opportunity to develop their talents.
Other athletic programs could continue within the university structure as amateur pursuits—enhancing student opportunities for a balanced education.
All the other universities could have walk on programs in football and basketball for genuine amateurs, and in a manner similar to the Ivy League schools and military academies, compete at a level that compliments a decent university education.
After all, a quality education is why young people should go to college.
Peter Morici is a professor of business at the University of Maryland, which is leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the Big Ten, and a nationally published columnist. He tweets @pmorici1