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- Competitive video games, known as esports, do not count as athletics for purposes of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law, according to a February court ruling that legal experts called the first of its kind.
- In a ruling last month, U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza wrote that the esports programs at the private, nonprofit college, Florida Institute of Technology, do not offer “genuine opportunities for participation under Title IX,” which prohibits gender discrimination at federally funded schools. Colleges must ensure parity between men’s and women’s athletics to meet their obligations under Title IX.
- The Florida Institute of Technology, or FIT, was sued in October by six members of its varsity men’s rowing program, alleging that the institution’s decision to move the team to the club level violated Title IX and that men were underrepresented as athletes compared to the institution’s student body. body. But FIT claimed it was close to parity when esports participants were taken into account.
Esports have exploded in college over the past half decade. Institutions of all types have established scholarships, launched academic programs, and sometimes built mammoth arenas to try to stake a stake in what is valued as a $1.2 billion industry worldwide.
Even the COVID-19 health crisis has not significantly derailed the progress of esports, as some colleges have found that they can use online gaming during the lockdown attract bidders.
However, there have been questions about the regulation of esports. National Association of Collegiate eSports, which started in 2016, serves as the NCAA counterpart. However, the Esports Association is nowhere near as large or well-equipped and is still implementing general rules.
Not every esports program chooses to join the association either.
There have also been concerns about Title IX. Colleges host their esports programs in different departments—sometimes in student affairs offices, but often in athletics, raising questions about whether they are subject to the same regulatory requirements as traditional sports.
The Feb. 17 court decision marks the first time a decision has been made on the issue of Title IX and college esports.
District Judge Mendoza found the issue clear. He wrote in court filings that esports “does not require athletic ability” and that they bear little resemblance to FIT’s varsity sports teams.
The association does not determine the actual rules of the games, as the NCAA does, and there is no indication that FIT’s esports program “recruits off campus or competes in a progressive playoff system,” Mendoza wrote.
Last year, FIT officials classified esports as athletics as an institution moved to transition men’s and women’s rowing, men’s and women’s cross-country and men’s golf to club level despite opposition. The women’s golf team was terminated in 2019 during the previous round of athletic cuts.
The college argued that esports participants must try out for teams, as in the traditional sports world, and have access to similar support services as athletes, such as coaches.
More specifically, FIT included esports players in the calculation that determines whether a college is in compliance with Title IX, according to court records.
One way colleges can demonstrate compliance is to demonstrate that the proportion of male and female athletes matches the ratio of males to females in their total enrollment. FIT said that by categorizing esports participants as athletes, it met this requirement.
But by not designating esports players as traditional athletes, FIT violates Title IX, plaintiffs in the case said. In his ruling, Mendoza temporarily blocked the college from converting men’s rowing to a club sport and ordered it to receive “full funding, staffing and other benefits” by mid-March.
FIT spokesman Adam Lowenstein said in an email that the university followed the court’s directive and reinstated the men’s rowing team’s varsity status. The college also posted the team’s head coaching job opening and began the interview process to hire an interim coach, Lowenstein said.