What Students Are Saying
In 2007, ESPN aired a short documentary called “Outside the Lines: Pregnant Pause,” which described student athlete pregnancy as “an underground topic,” and highlighted the lack of support and resources on campus for pregnant and parenting athletes.
- “An abortion was not something I had wanted to do. I would have liked to have been able to keep my career, my scholarship, still be at Clemson and have my child.”-Clemson student-athlete
- “I just was like, ‘I do not want to lose my scholarship. I don’t want to go back home and work at McDonald’s or work at Jack in the Box or something. I need my education. I need this college degree to have a better life.’” -Cassandra Harding, triple jumper who became pregnant, and feared for her scholarship because of the University of Memphis team policy
- “I talked with my academic advisor. She was just like, ‘You know that’s going to be hard?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And she was just like, ‘You know, everything that you got…gone. Just think about your options. You know coach isn’t going to give you back your scholarship just like that. If she finds out, and if you decide to keep it, that’s gone.’” -Clemson student-athlete who discovered she was pregnant, and turned to her academic advisor for advice
The fact is that student-athletes who find themselves in an unintended or crisis pregnancy have no one to turn to. Often, many athletes hide their pregnancies for fear of losing their scholarship. Moreover, administrators, coaches, and staff have created an environment where athletes feel forced to choose between two options: their baby or their scholarship.
Title IX and NCAA Policies
A pregnant student-athlete can continue to participate in her sport for as long as she and her doctor feel comfortable and safe. The NCAA also allows a special red shirt season for athletes for pregnancy. A “red shirt season” is a season when the athlete is still on the team and on the roster, but they do not compete for medical reasons. The athlete would have to talk to her coach and apply for this status.
The NCAA has provided the following reminder regarding Title IX Rights and pregnant student athletes:
- “Title IX guarantees equal educational opportunity to pregnant and parenting students. This means that student-athletes cannot be discriminated against in the event of their pregnancy, childbirth, conditions related to pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery there from, or parental or marital status; and they must be offered reinstatement to the same position after pregnancy as they held before the onset of pregnancy. Some actions that may be permissible under NCAA rules are impermissible under Title IX. Institutions should carefully monitor precedent regarding athletics financial aid renewal, access to athletics benefits and treatment issues. Student-athletes who are pregnant should be treated like any other student-athlete with a temporary disability. For example, if the institution regularly provides athletics aid, tutoring, athletics trainer and team physician support, insurance or access to assistance or opportunity funds to a student-athlete while he rehabilitates from an injury, the pregnant student-athlete should not be excluded from such benefits. Institutions should make sure student-athletes understand the law and institutional policy as part of the normal orientation or team meeting agenda.”
The NCAA’s interpretation of the Title IX (federal law) sex-discrimination policy is:
- “What happens to your scholarship: As long as you are in good academic standing with the university and you do not voluntarily withdraw from your team, it is against federal law for us withdraw or reduce your financial aid in the event of your pregnancy, childbirth, conditions related to pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, recovery from pregnancy, or parental or marital status during the term of the award. Federal law also requires us to grant you as much leave as is medically necessary and to renew your scholarship under certain circumstances. Finally, you should also know that NCAA bylaws allow a female student-athlete to apply for an additional year of eligibility if her athletic career is interrupted by pregnancy.”
The NCAA Toolkit, “Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes Resources and Model Policies,” further outlines these situations here: http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/PregnancyToolkit.pdf
Change the Culture on Campus
Loss of identity, financial concerns, academic progress maintenance, as well as parenting and child care issues can accompany the discovery of an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. Student athletes should not be discriminated against simply because they are pregnant. Rather, the support, resources, and policies must be implemented to help women make life-affirming decisions for herself and her child.
What will YOU do to support pregnant/parenting student-athletes on your campus??
- Click HERE for steps that you can take to change the culture of your campus to better support pregnant student athletes!
Resources and Articles
For an in-depth study on the failure of schools to implement policies for pregnant and parenting athletes:
Resources that may be helpful to review and distribute to your school’s Athletic Department:
- NCAA Pregnancy Toolkit: Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes Resources and Model Policies
- NCAA Title IX Resource Center
- NCAA Title IX Frequently Asked Questions
- 2012 NCAA Convention Video, “Title IX: The Latest Developments and Trends”