Athletic Liability Series Pt 1

Athletic Liability Series – Part 1 of a 3 part Newsletter Series

Play Ball! 6 Vital Tips for Legally Fit Athletic Fundraising

By: William D. Berard III, Esq., and Mary Jo McGrath, Esq.
McGrath Training Systems

In a perfect world, school district budgets would provide unlimited resources for education and extracurricular programs. In reality, budget constraints cause districts to continuously struggle to maintain existing programs, let alone introduce new ones. In the arena of school district athletics, administrators, athletic directors, and coaches are continuously seeking outside funding to supplement their budget shortfalls. More often than not, an athletic department’s supplemental income is the result of donations or fundraising by teams or booster clubs. What many athletic directors fail to realize is that more and more courts are now finding that such funding initiatives do not comply with Title IX.

In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX in an effort to bring about gender equity in education, including men’s and women’s athletics, from K-12 school districts through the university level. The goal was to end gender discrimination in the way institutions run their programs.

In the area of fundraising and donations, Title IX permits school districts to raise or receive funds to supplement their athletic budgets, so long as boys’ and girls’ programs are compensated equitably. However, Title IX may prohibit individual teams from raising moneys for their own use. In other words, it is acceptable for boys’ basketball teams and girls’ softball teams to conduct fundraising campaigns, as long as revenue from each drive goes into the school’s general athletic fund and does not result in an inequitable opportunity or program benefit enjoyed by only one gender.

Some courts have found it unacceptable for funds to be used solely by the individual teams that did the fundraising, even though this remains a common practice today. What further complicates this matter is the fact that a good portion of athletic fundraising is conducted by the respective teams’ booster clubs or may be the donation of a parent benefactor who wants to specify use of those funds. Contrary to popular belief, Title IX restrictions apply to these types of income just as if the money was raised directly by the school.

In a recent case in Washington state, a boys’ baseball booster club built a locker room and clubhouse to be used solely by the boys’ team. The girls’ softball team did not have such facilities and could not use the boys’ facility because it was adjacent to a professional men’s baseball diamond (and such playing fields do not meet girls’ softball regulations). A parents’ group inquired with the district regarding the inequity and gave the district an opportunity to respond prior to filing a formal OCR complaint.

In response, the district conducted a Title IX review. They found the boys’ clubhouse to be improper and chose to shut down the facility. In addition, the Title IX review indicated that while the boys were playing in a minor league professional baseball stadium with many amenities, all three girls’ softball teams were playing in comparably poor facilities. As a result, two of the girls’ softball facilities were upgraded. A third girls’ team, which had been playing in a city park that was prone to flooding during heavy rains, received a totally new softball facility from the district. The parents group was satisfied with the outcome and no OCR complaint was filed.

This case illustrates the need to plan ahead for equitable spending under Title IX. Had the district planned ahead in coordination with the booster club, those funds could have been applied more judiciously. The school district involved also demonstrated a proactive, legally fit response to the parent group’s inquiry. They had a trained, skilled Title IX officer whom they trusted to conduct a thorough internal review and make sound recommendations, and they were prepared to follow those recommendations and correct inequities in their athletic programs.

Six Vital Tips For Title IX Compliance in Fundraising

  1. Title IX requires your school district to have a Title IX officer in place. Make sure that this person receives comprehensive training and is fully prepared and supported in carrying out all duties.
  2. The district athletic director and Title IX officer must have a good working relationship. They should schedule regular occasions for discussion and planning on Title IX issues.
  3. Districts should conduct annual Title IX training programs for all athletic coaches and staff, including seasonal personnel.
  4. School districts should have a well organized and comprehensive policy concerning in-house and outside group fundraising and a fundraising/donation approval form that takes into consideration Title IX issues.
  5. All booster clubs should be overseen by the district and all of their fundraising efforts should receive prior written approval.
  6. The athletic director, site administrators and coaches should discuss all fundraising before the commencement of any campaign conducted by an athletic team or booster club to ensure that it complies with Title IX.

Supplementing your school district’s athletic budget can be a key to student success on the field, in the classroom, and in the world. It is therefore imperative that districts understand Title IX and its ramifications before pursuing any type of supplemental income.

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