WSF Responds to Knight Commission’s Call for Separate Football Governing Entity

Published on December 18th, 2020

The Knight Commission recently released recommendations to create a governing entity for Division I football, separate from the NCAA. While the Women’s Sports Foundation applauds the Knight Commission for its continued efforts and recommendations of useful reforms for collegiate sport, we are concerned that these new recommendations have potential unintended consequences to gender equity. While there has been enormous progress since Title IX was passed, far too many schools are still out of compliance with the law. WSF reached out to the Knight Commission to express our concerns and provide guidance for the independent special task force to ensure that gender equity is a priority in the continued process.

Below, find the letter that WSF sent to the Knight Commission. You can read the Knight Commission’s press release on the subject here.

December 16, 2020

Sent via email

Members of the Knight Commission,

We hope that you and your families are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.

I am writing today from the Women’s Sports Foundation, which since its inception in 1974 by Billie Jean King, has focused on enabling girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. We applaud the Knight Commission for over the years conducting important assessments and recommending useful reforms for collegiate sports, including those that support gender equity. We appreciate your great work and specifically want to express our gratitude for your recent thorough review of the structure and operations of college athletics. These recommendations are already opening a critical dialogue about the current state of college athletics and highlighting shortcomings in the NCAA financial and operational structure, as well as the need for meaningful reform.

However, we are concerned that potential unintended consequences of creating a separate football governing entity could exasperate gender inequity in college athletics. Restructuring the NCAA to govern all sports other than FBS football has the potential to sidetrack the progress that has been made since the adoption of Title IX. While there has been enormous progress since this landmark legislation was passed in 1972, as we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX, far too many schools are still not in compliance with the law as it relates to athletics. Indeed, the vast majority of schools are out of compliance. We encourage the Knight Commission to include consideration of gender equity and compliance with Title IX as a key component of the continued review, including by the task force and with the engagement with campus presidents and other leaders.

While we applaud the Knight Commission’s attention to the issues in the report, the recommendations do not address the excessive spending and arms race in FBS football programs and the impact on gender equity. As you know so well, the spending on lavish facilities, coaches’ salaries and recruiting for football puts pressure on many schools’ abilities to provide the equal opportunities and benefits for women that are required under Title IX. In turn, some athletic departments have made the unfortunate decision to drop sports, often focusing on men’s non-revenue sports and in many cases unfairly making Title IX the public reason, when budgetary choices are typically the driving factor. We suggest that you consider aggressive ideas to remedy this situation.

In addition, we were surprised by the recommendation that the Division I governance structure be reorganized around men’s basketball, rather than basketball generally or another gender-neutral model. To realign “incentives, polices and administration in ways that will better support the future of men’s basketball” diminishes the importance of gender equity and institutional obligations to comply with Title IX. Indeed, it would have been terrific if the third recommendation had included a bullet devoted exclusively to gender equity and compliance with Title IX under the newly proposed structure.

In conclusion, as you continue your analysis of bold reform, we respectfully ask the Knight Commission’s independent special task force to:

  • Ensure the task force prioritizes gender equity in the process and recommendations.
  • Evaluate Title IX compliance across college athletics and set strong expectations for member institutions to meet all requirements of the law, regardless of the governance structure(s).
  • Consider measures to address the impact on FBS athletics programs generally as a result of the excessive spending on FBS football.

The Women’s Sports Foundation is available to serve as a resource to you and we are willing to provide additional feedback as your proposals are refined.


Dr. Deborah Antoine

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Sports Foundation


Cc: Amy Perko, Chief Executive Officer