Do Esports Classify as Intercollegiate Sport? Legal Analysis of Title IX

Derek R. Walton – The Ohio State University
Leeann M. Lower-Hoppe – The Ohio State University
Marc Horger – The Ohio State University

Collegiate esports teams are becoming institutionalized as university officials increasingly see the potential esports programs have to grow student interest, drive enrollment, and raise revenue (Funk, Pizzo, & Baker, 2018; Jenny, Manning, Keiper, & Olrich, 2016; Keiper, Manning, Jenny, Olrich, & Croft, 2017; Schaeperkoetter, et al., 2017). However, there is not yet clarity as to whether or not esports is defined as “sport” according to law, creating confusion around Title IX athletic policy implications as it pertains to collegiate esports (i.e. scholarship, benefits, and opportunities). Therefore, the researchers conducted a legal analysis of what constitutes intercollegiate “sport”. The results provide deference to the 2008 Dear Colleague Letter which evaluates sport based upon: 1) activity’s governing body, 2) activity’s structure and administration, and 3) activity’s team preparation and competition. The legal analysis results were applied to three prominent collegiate esports programs, with implications that collegiate esports are beginning to fit the legal criterion of an intercollegiate sport according to the law, creating plausible grounds for a Title IX discrimination lawsuit impacting athletic administration.