SEC leaders await clarity on how Title IX ties into House v. NCAA settlement

DESTIN, Fla. -- As SEC presidents and chancellors met Wednesday for the first time this week at the conference's annual spring meetings, they emerged from the daylong session with no further clarity on how the federal Title IX regulation will tie into revenue distribution resulting from the historic settlement of House v. NCAA.

Title IX requires colleges to provide equal opportunities for men and women to compete in varsity sports and provide equitable benefits to those athletes. The law, written long before athletes were earning money beyond their scholarships, does not clearly state how the federal government views direct payments to athletes.

Texas president Jay Hartzell told ESPN the league's presidents and chancellors are still learning how the money ties into the law. The NCAA will pay more than $2.7 billion in damages over 10 years to past and current athletes, and the Power 5 conferences also have agreed to a revenue-sharing plan allowing each school to share up to roughly $20 million per year with its athletes.

"As I understand it, the law was not written from the standpoint of this particular kind of payment," he said. "It's a new thing. What's been explained to us is the judge in the main case has not opined or ruled in a way that gives much direction about how Title IX fits into the settlement. We're having to chart the course we think is best. That's why we're talking so much about it."

One of the main questions surrounding the law is whether equitable treatment will require schools to pay its men and women athletes the same in the new revenue-sharing model, or if the payments are considered more of a benefit that could be proportional to the money generated from each sport.

First-year Texas A&M athletic director Trev Alberts advocated it shouldn't be a school-by-school interpretation and application because that "would be wholly unfair in a sense."

"Like Texas A&M takes a very conservative view, X, Y, Z school takes a very liberal view and suddenly it's disparate," he told ESPN. "We can't do that. So I think it has to be a consistent application."

Alberts also said he believes it should be "market driven."

"You think about proportionality, and you think about in my simple farmer mind, if the same number of female student-athletes are participating as male student-athletes in some form of remuneration for their name, image and likeness, however it gets to me, that's the key," he said. "Then should the market then from there dictate or have impact on what that percentage looks like? That would be my orientation, but I guess I could be corrected."

Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz Jr. said what differentiates college athletics from the professional level is that there are multiple sports on each campus -- and most don't make money.

"Seventy-five percent of all Olympians come from college sports, and almost none of those make money," Harroz told ESPN. "You look at also the gains we've made the last 52 years under Title IX and what that's done for women in sports and women in general and all of society, it's a huge benefit. That's not something that applies to professional sports."

The complexity they face, he said, is paying players while preserving the "essence of college athletics."

"To me, Title IX, women in sports, those sports that lose money and are a part of our Olympic tradition and a part of our college tradition, that I think is what's happening at these SEC meetings and it's happening across the country -- how do we engage in that balancing in a way that honors each of those goals, some of which can appear to be competing?" he said. "But if we do this elegantly enough, I think it can actually be complimentary, but that takes real work and real thought."

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said there's debate on whether the federal law in this case should refer to money or opportunity and "time will tell" where it lands. Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said the schools need legal guidance they haven't received.

"That's a huge difference between us and the pro model," Stricklin said. "We have to find out what the courts or some kind of legal authority says, whether it's the Office [for] Civil Rights or judge, about how we need to apply until we have that direction."

One thing conference leaders seemed to agree on is that cutting sports would be a last resort to help find funding. Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said the athletic department and SEC believe in "broad-based opportunities" and that cutting sports isn't at the top of his list of solutions.

"Before we ever get to that path, we can operate more efficiently," he told ESPN. "That's the challenge. Before we ever talk about cutting a sport, let's be smart about how we operate, how we travel, how we do things."

While the Department of Education or Congress could provide answers proactively, neither has demonstrated any urgency to do so. Specific interpretations of Title IX often come through litigation, and in this instance, a group of athletes might need to file a lawsuit about how their school is handling these direct payments to establish clarity.

Alberts is already prepared for that.

"What I've got my mind convinced of, is there's probably going to be multiple things that emerge out of this that no matter what decision was made was going to be challenged legally anyway," Alberts said. "So all of this is going to be challenged, and that's OK."