by Steven Ertelt
August 3, 2007
Charlotte, NC (LifeNews.com) — After a national controversy where several colleges came under fire for revoking the scholarships of student athletes who become pregnant, the NCAA has met to review what it should do. The problems came to light when students at the University of Memphis and Clemson University said they felt pressured to have abortions.
At a recent meeting in Charlotte, NCAA officials appeared to agree they should focus more on educating students about their rights rather than changing official rules.
Janet Kittel, the outgoing head of the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics, said NCAA director Myles Brand asked the committee to discuss the issue.
She told the Associated Press the meeting focused on how to do a better job of making students aware of their rights under the federal Title IX law.
The statute requires schools to treat a pregnancy the same way they would treat athletes with a temporary disability — by allowing for time off from the athletic program without worries about losing scholarships or spots on the team.
The NCAA has no general rules on how colleges should treat pregnant athletes but it allows students to apply for an extra year of eligibility which would not count as a redshirt year but would allow girls who become pregnant to attend college an extra year and stay in school for six years and compete for four.
“This was a very amicable, productive, positive discussion: How can we help?” Kittell told AP.
The NCAA wants to "reach out to both our member institutions and student athletes and educate them" instead of punishing schools or changing nationwide rules, she added.
She said the NCAA planned to issue a guide for colleges and universities on how best to inform students about their rights under law during a pregnancy.
The problems became a national issue when Clemson and Memphis students said they lost scholarships over their pregnancies. The report included interviews with seven Clemson University students who said they felt coerced into having abortions to keep the athletic money.
Typically colleges and universities do not have formal rules on pregnancy and scholarships, which leaves many students confused as to what will happen should they become pregnant.
Some students wind up making decisions based only on verbal threats or promises that may have no weight.
Clemson later acknowledged that women’s track coach Marcia Noad gave students a policy saying, "Pregnancy resulting in the inability to compete and positively contribute to the program’s success will result in the modification of your grant-in-aid money."
However, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said the policy was never meant to encourage abortions but to encourage students to make responsible sexual choices.
He told AP on Thursday that the rule “was a team rule that shouldn’t have been in there" and that no student lost scholarship money or was kicked off the team for a pregnancy.
Elizabeth Sorensen, an associate professor of nursing at Wright State University in Ohio, has been leading a new movement to protect the rights of pregnant athletes. According to her research, just 26 of the more than 270 Division I schools in the NCAA have any written policy.