So, I had to think long and hard about this. My answer ends up being, “no they should not lose their scholarships, although their clock should keep running unless they have a redshirt year available.” Allow me to explain (it is lengthy, I apologize):
Much of the reason for my deliberation of this is due to a lack of analogous events to compare it to. Scholarship athletes are allowed to keep their scholarships despite not being able to perform for differing reasons all the time. The problem is that none of those reasons approach the specific circumstances surrounding a pregnancy. For example: many student-athletes have significant injuries that impact their ability to play for a season (sometimes more), but are allowed to keep their scholarships. However, in the case of an on-field injury, the comparison fails because the student-athlete had no intention of getting injured and it cannot reasonably be argued that their willful negligence or behavior was cause for the injury. On the opposite end, one could argue that a pregnancy is more analogous to a significant off-field injury resulting from a risky behavior (skiing, rock-climbing, off-road racing, etc). The problem with this comparison is that we can’t really make assumptions about the risk-assessment and recklessness of sexual behavior without necessarily requiring somebody to find out the exact circumstances of the sexual encounter that resulted in the pregnancy (i.e., if protection was used, etc.).
What about a catch-all category of non-injury “life events”? While I know of examples of athletes keeping their scholarships while going through things of this nature (e.g., a former teammate of mine who had a death in the immediate family, and another who had to take a year off after a tumor was found between his spinal cord and stomach), and I believe these examples are closer to a pregnancy consideration, they still lack the balance of a conscious, proactive action with a “life event” style result.
Also, it occurs to me that there is a distinctly biological nature to this. In other words, this can only happen to a woman. And I do believe that it is within that context that the conversation should be driven. This got me to thinking about the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, so I decided to read up on it a bit. In reading through the text of the act itself, these two provisions stood out to me:
5. due to the nature of the roles of men and women in our society, the primary responsibility for family caretaking often falls on women, and such responsibility affects the working lives of women more than it affects the working lives of men; and
6. employment standards that apply to one gender only have serious potential for encouraging employers to discriminate against employees and applicants for employment who are of that gender.
While discrimination isn’t a practical issue here, the social policy still resonates with me. A man cannot go through this, so no considerations or analogies for male athletes are relevant. In fact, the male athlete can go around having about as much sex as he wants, knowing this will never be his problem. Therefore, the real question becomes, do we make special considerations for a woman’s unique biological nature? In asking myself, “why shouldn’t we,” I can’t really think of any compelling reasons other than freeing up that scholarship for another female athlete (who can also get pregnant, by the way). Considering that teams often have scholarships allocated to persons that cannot help them any given season, I don’t find this argument too persuasive. Conversely, in asking myself “why should we,” I find that the social policy of the Family Medical Leave Act carries significant weight.
Tangentially, I’d like to point out that I believe there may be Title IX implications here to consider. I haven’t read the full text of it, and while I do wish the title would be amended or eradicated (that’s another topic), it’s probably not going anywhere, ever. However, if it did, I could see women’s programs being at risk of being marginalized if women are summarily dismissed from their scholarships due to pregnancy.
Another point I’d like to make is that, regardless of what it feels like, the NCAA and its member schools that hand out scholarships go to great lengths to affirm that scholarship athletes are Students first, with a primary obligation to be on a track to graduate in order to remain eligible. My feeling is that if academic standing is the primary concern regarding athletic eligibility, then it, too, should be the primary concern for retaining the scholarship (which it already is). If the pregnant athlete plans to continue their academic pursuits (and I’m writing this under the assumption that they are), then I believe that should be good enough.
Lastly, as to why I believe their athletic “clock” should keep ticking during pregnancy, I believe it sufficiently deters the student-athlete from getting pregnant in the first place, knowing they can lose a year of eligibility they will never get back. This may incentivize the recruiting school to prioritize disciplined and focused athletes to the extent that they don’t already, since the school potentially loses a year of eligibility from an All-American caliber athlete.
And for anybody who made it this far, thanks for reading.