Law Suits and Cutbacks

Barbara Hedges

Ever since she arrived at Montlake from USC in 1991 as the new athletic director, Barbara Hedges has spearheaded the fight for equality on the nation's playing fields.

Gender equity has been the premier subject of debate in the world of college athletics since 1972, when the federal government officially recognized that women were getting short shrift. The federal government passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, declaring that if programs wanted to continue receiving federal money, they had better start creating equal opportunities for women.

Title IX targeted three areas

* Participation. Does the participation rate match the ratio of students on campus? For example, if 45 percent of the student body are women, then 45 percent of the athletes should be women.

* Scholarships. Is there a commitment to current programs and to add other fully funded programs?

* Support. Is there a balance in crucial behind-the-scenes items such as money for travel, how a team eats on the road, and the level of academic support?

Women's collegiate sports doubled from 32,000 participants in 1971 to more than 64,000 in 1977, but the rise began to level off, then diminish a few years later when Title IX protections weakened.

A gender equity task force appointed by the NCAA released a landmark 1993 report which concluded that, despite the 20-year-old law of the land requiring equal opportunities for men and women, "there is clear evidence that it has not succeeded in providing" equal access for women.

Marie Tuite

"It was downright embarrassing for this industry," says Tuite, a former NCAA official. "There's no other way to describe it."

A number of universities suffered further embarrassment when they were taken to court under gender equity issues. One of the biggest cases was in 1979 when Washington State University was sued by 53 coaches and athletes for violating the state's anti-discrimination statutes. Plaintiffs claimed inferior treatment of WSU women's athletics in funding, fund-raising efforts, publicity, scholarships, facilities, equipment, coaching, uniforms and administrative support. A state trial court agreed, ruling that this was a violation of state law against discrimination and the state's Equal Rights Amendment. The total damages came to $124,000, including interest. Today WSU has eight women's sports and five men's programs.

Some other universities who got nailed in court included Texas, which agreed in a settlement to add two sports and increase scholarships; Cornell, which was required to restore the women's gymnastics and fencing teams; and Auburn, which was ordered to elevate women's soccer from club level to varsity status, devote hundreds of thousands of dollars for operating expenses, increase scholarships, and build new fields for women's sports.

The goal mandated by the courts was simple: Institutions should strive to have equal numbers of men's and women's athletes. Two strategies were employed: adding women's sports and cutting men's sports. Unfortunately, many took the latter action--a move that didn't sit well with men or women. "We know what it is like not to have opportunities," says UW Softball Coach Teresa Wilson. "It isn't fair to men to have their sports cut."

The UW was not exempt from cutting men's sports as a way to even out the numbers and keep the program out of red ink. In 1980, the UW men's gymnastics and wrestling programs were eliminated. "With inflation and our commitment to expand women's athletics, unless we find new ways to increase our revenues or decrease expenditures, things will be even tougher next year," former athletic director Mike Lude said at the time.

Other Pac-10 schools cut men's sports, too. Oregon State cut track 10 years ago and UCLA eliminated crew, for example.

Doing It the Right Way
Case Histories: Softball and Soccer
New Womens' Basketball Coach June Daugherty
Husky Sports Page

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