Sarah Wake Comments on Title IX Implications of Paying College Players

October 14, 2022

The Athletic quoted McGuireWoods Chicago partner Sarah Wake in a Sept. 27, 2022, story that examined potential changes to college football’s governing structure and how the sport’s revenues are distributed. The article quoted several key leaders in college sports, including athletic directors from the Power Five conferences, coaches and conference commissioners.

The article noted that a recent policy change allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness rights, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the NCAA from barring education-related payments and benefits to players, opened the door to future legislation and litigation that could lead to schools paying athletes.

Outgoing NCAA president Mark Emmert endorsed a “brand ambassador model” that would allow universities to pay athletes to represent the schools without necessarily treating them as employees. He said such a model could exist outside of Title IX regulation. Wake, a labor and employment lawyer who previously served as associate general counsel at Northwestern University and Title IX coordinator at Notre Dame, disputed the assertion, because Title IX applies to institutions that receive federal financial assistance, not just to certain individuals at those institutions.

“Title IX applies to colleges and universities that receive federal financial assistance . . .,” she said. “If some framework change applies to student athletes that renders them employees, Title IX would absolutely apply to employees of those institutions that are otherwise subject to Title IX. Even if Title IX doesn’t apply to employees, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the context of the employer-employee relationship.”