On3 Covers Sarah Wake’s Comments on Future of College Athletics

May 16, 2023

The national collegiate sports news service On3 quoted McGuireWoods partner Sarah Wake in its April 26, 2023, coverage of the LEAD1 Association’s three-day spring member meeting and forum in Dallas. Wake, a Chicago labor and employment partner, participated in an April 25 panel titled “What Could the Future Look Like: Is Congress the Only Option?” with other leaders in college sports. She addressed the prospect that student-athletes could be designated as employees, among other issues.

“I think there is no stopping the train,” said Wake, who advises universities on athletic compliance issues. “I think someone, somewhere is going to opine, officially, that student-athletes are employees. Whether or not that sticks, I think, is to be determined.”

The LEAD1 Association represents the athletic directors of the 130 member institutions in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The collegiate model of athletics is under scrutiny right now, as legal challenges continue to accumulate under antitrust and wage and hour laws, among others. 

Wake, who previously served as associate general counsel at Northwestern University and Title IX coordinator at Notre Dame, disputed assertions that an employee model could operate outside of Title IX regulation to the detriment of women’s sports programs.

 “I’m 100% positive . . . Title IX applies to employees. Period. Full stop. End of story,” she said, in reference to whether Title IX applies to employees of colleges and universities who receive federal funding. Wake also noted that even if Title IX did not apply to employees, there are other laws that prohibit discrimination against employees, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Regardless of the legal framework at issue, Wake noted, “You just can’t eradicate women’s sports and have that not be a problem.”