Sixth year of eligibility for paternity leave denied by NCAA

The NCAA recently denied a sixth year of eligibility to former Kansas defensive lineman Eric Butler, who requested a a sixth season of eligibility based on the pregnancy waiver. According to USA Today (link here), Butler argued that the NCAA’s pregnancy waiver, which allows female athletes a one-year extension of eligibility for “reasons of pregnancy,” should apply to males in helping to care for their newborns.

The NCAA’s rule was developed to assist female athletes with physical changes from pregnancy that prevent them from playing during their sports season. Butler has filed suit in federal court with the argument that under Title IX, the same rules should also apply to fathers. Butler also argues that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 should apply to NCAA athletes. The Act provides men working at companies with 50 employees or more the right to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid paternity leave. “It’s kinda like a job; it’s almost like a 40-hour week being a college athlete,” Butler told the paper. “They should give college athletes the same opportunities that people in the normal workplace have. I think that’s the way society is moving.”

Supporting Butler’s argument is Jocelyn Samuels, senior vice president at the National Women’s Law Center. She told USA Today, “if athletic programs allow women to be redshirted for a period of child raising, then that is treatment that should also be extended to male team members who take leave from school for the same reason. As a matter of social policy, that is a direction that the NCAA may want to consider. As a matter of social policy, to ensure that people can fulfill both their academic and their parental responsibilities would be a good thing.”

A colleague of Samuel’s, NWLC lawyer Neena Chaudhry, pointed out that “you would want a separate rule for an athlete who is actually pregnant and going through the physical demands of a pregnancy vs. a more general provision. Pregnancy does provide its own physical limitations.”