Are You a Legal Professional?

College Sports and the Law

Welcome to the College Sports and the Law section of FindLaw's Education Law Center, with legal and practical information on the rules and regulations affecting college sports and student athletes. As with other aspects of post-secondary education, student athletics are subject to rules and regulations handed down by the institution in addition to state and local laws. And while student athletes who commit crimes are subject to the same consequences for their actions as non-athletes, schools usually have their own administrative rules pertaining to criminal charges. Other topics covered in this section include drug testing, the collective bargaining rights of student athletes, legal issues related to athletic scholarships, and more.

Title IX and College Athletics

Title IX was added to the Civil Rights Act in 1972 in order to foster gender equality in educational programs, including financial aid and athletics. Basically, any public or private college or university that receives federal funding (most institutions fall into this category) must follow the rules promulgated by Title IX. Since college athletics programs are considered educational, they are subject to Title IX in the following ways:

  • Athletic Participation - Men and women must be provided an equal opportunity to play sports (not necessarily identical sports, though).
  • Sports Scholarships - Male and female student athletes must receive sports scholarship amounts in proportion to their participation.
  • Provisions and Facilities - Male and female student athletes must receive equal access to equipment, scheduling of games and practices, locker room facilities, publicity, and related provisions.

Title IX is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education; violations may result in fines and other sanctions, including loss of federal financial assistance.

College Athletes and Criminal Activity

If a student athlete is arrested and charged with a crime, he or she is considered innocent until proven guilty just like any other criminal defendant. However, most post-secondary schools have their own administrative approaches to criminal charges. For example, many colleges and universities suspend athletes from all sports activities once they have been charged with a crime, even before it is fully adjudicated. The school's athletic director has a great deal of say over these types of situations.

There is some debate over whether college athletes are regularly protected from criminal sanctions, but several factors are at play. While there have been cases where athletes have been protected by coaches and administrators, sometimes it's a matter of finding witnesses willing to testify against a popular player or team. Also, student athletes often are given access to high-profile attorneys.

Sports Scholarships

Because of Title IX, educational institutions are required to award sports scholarships in amounts that are proportional to the involvement of students in order to create more parity among men and women. So if three out of five (or 60 percent) of the student athletes are men, then 60 percent of the scholarship money should go to the male athletes at the school. Those who also are receiving academic scholarships, such as those based on test scores or grade point average, typically see a proportional reduction in the amount of their athletic scholarships.

Click on a link below for more information about the laws and administrative rules governing college sports and student athletes.

Learn About College Sports and the Law