The explicit Title IX responsibilities in Urban Meyer’s contract aren’t in every head football coach’s but language like it may soon be, according to a prominent sports attorney.
“I would expect that within the next two or three years that every coach within a Power 5 school has [a Title IX provisions] in their contracts,” said sports attorney Robert Lattinville who represents a number of NCAA clients and collaborates with USA Today annually to generate the seminal survey of compensation and employment trends for college coaches and athletics directors.
The expectation of coaches to report Title IX violations has existed since the Education Amendments of 1972 were enacted, but an understanding of how that expectation is to result in action has been largely misunderstood or mishandled by coaches in the past. Moving forward, Lattinville expects coaches will train their staffs on how to properly report these incidents.
“[Coaches] are going to spend a lot of time educating their staff on exactly what to do. They’ll run, for lack of a better word ‘fire drills,’ on that several times a year,” he predicts. “I think that will become standard operating procedures. It’s one way to make the Title IX policy clearly understood and the roles defined.”
According to those provisions in his contract, along with NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199, the domestic violence allegations against Meyer’s former assistant Zach Smith were Meyer’s responsibility to report to the university’s Title IX coordinator if he knew about them. Reports from college football reporter Brett McMurphy point to evidence that he may have been made aware through text and photo messages between his wife and Smith’s accuser.
A number of schools joined Ohio State in clearly defining a coach’s role in reporting alleged Title IX violations by an athlete or staff member. Through documents received in an open records request, The Dallas Morning News reported that Texas A&M included specific language in Jimbo Fisher and his assistant’s employment contracts. If Fisher or another staff member is found in violation, he’ll be fired.
The University of Maryland was also among the early adopters in codifying a coach’s roles and responsibilities in reporting sexual misconduct allegations.
However, many contracts previously obtained through records requests lack any language on the roles and responsibilities of coaches in regards to Title IX or reporting of sexual misconduct. Head coach contracts examined from college football powerhouses like Oklahoma, Michigan, and Alabama failed to include specific language about the reporting requirements of any Title IX violations.
Title IX is a federal law that protects anyone involved with any education program funded by the federal government from discrimination based on their gender. Incidents of sexual harassment and assault are considered forms of sex discrimination covered under Title IX, according to the American Association of University Women, a non-profit that advances equity for women.
Sexual violence has not always been reported or even strictly enforced with Title IX coordinators until recent years. It wasn’t until the Baylor football program came under fire for what university regents deemed a “fundamental failure” of the university’s Title IX implementation and a football program operating “above the rules” in not reporting rape allegations made by a Baylor student against of its players. Lattinville said the Baylor scandal, which is still dealing with the legal ramifications, set the wheels in motion for the school administrations to include specific Title IX reporting duties in their coaches contracts like the ones in Meyer’s.
“I think [the Baylor scandal] really woke people up,” he said. “It made [universities] say, ‘we’ve got to make coaches aware of the fact that they have mandatory reporting obligations. And we have to have a truly impartial Title IX coordinator and that that coordinator has to exercise independent judgment.”
Future inclusion of Title IX provisions in university athletics contracts will not only advance their intended function of keeping the entire school community safe but will also protect athletics departments from scenarios that hurt the school’s overall reputation.