Janet Evans slices through the water and America cheers. Florence Griffith Joyner races across the television screen and Madison Avenue applauds.
Female athletes are in. They have become big time and command big bucks.
But just beyond the glare of the Olympic flame, the glamour can fade quickly. Look beyond the stars of the Olympic Games, women’s tennis and, to some extent, women’s golf, and you’ll find that no truce has been called in the battle for equality.
For female athletes in this country, the struggles on the field have always paled in comparison to the struggle just to get on the field. The important thing wasn’t whether they won or lost, but rather, whether they even got a chance to play.
For women, there was a time when sweat was deemed unbecoming, competition unfeminine and aggressiveness unnatural. Sound like the 1870s? Would you believe the 1970s?
Then came Title IX.
Passed by Congress as part of the Education Act Amendments of 1972, Title IX barred sexual discrimination in educational programs, and in the ensuing years, that promise has been realized in intercollegiate sports. More women are playing more sports in front of more spectators than ever.
The programs are better funded and better received. Some of the women who had to battle for their rights as undergraduate athletes now oversee huge programs that are taken for granted by today’s female competitors.
But although the dream has become reality, the nightmares have not been so easy to dispel. In the 16 years since equality in sports was mandated, progress has frequently been two steps forward, one back. Many horror stories still exist.
Title IX was feared, opposed, severely limited by a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision and then reinstated several months ago by new legislation.
And still, said Chris Grant, director of women’s athletics at the University of Iowa, “Not one university in the country can say it is treating men and women in a comparable fashion.”
Except, perhaps, Temple University in Philadelphia.
School officials reached what is considered by some a landmark agreement earlier this year in settling a $1.8-million class-action sex discrimination suit brought against the institution by 11 women, all Temple graduates.
Under a consent decree in effect for the next 5 years, the school has agreed to:
--Keep the percentage of athletic scholarships granted to women equal to the percentage of female participants in the school’s athletic program.
--Keep the percentage of money for athletic expenditures for women within 10 percentage points of the percentage of women participating (excluding coaches’ salaries and benefits, home game expenses and postseason competition). For example, if one-third of the school’s athletes are women, then the women’s athletic program must receive at least 23% of the total athletic budget.
--Add a women’s swimming team.
--Hire a public relations person and a weight-training coach for women’s sports.
The demand for money in the suit was dropped.
This case was the battle for women’s rights in athletics in microcosm, with one side yelling for equality and the other for reality.
“It’s very exciting,” said Ellen Vargyas, senior attorney for the National Women’s Law Center and the legal representative of the plaintiffs. “This is all mandatory. It will no longer be good enough for the school to just make its best efforts. If they don’t follow through, they will be in contempt of court.
“There will no longer be any special consideration for the football team or revenue produced by a sport. If Temple wants to put more money into its men’s teams, that’s fine. But they are going to have to put more into women’s sports as well, under court order.”
But, according to Bob Reinstein, counsel for the university, the decree only orders the school to march in the direction it had been heading.
“We consider this case a compliment to our university,” he said. “We are being held up as a model because we are being told, basically, to keep doing what we have been doing.
“We have been at parity for the last 10 years with regard to equipment, uniforms and team travel. We have not been within the guidelines in regard to recruiting and recess, which means the housing and feeding of athletes in their off-season.
“Everybody won. The women student-athletes won because, while their program has improved tremendously over the years, it will improve even more. Temple won because the decree . . . recognizes the additional costs of football and men’s basketball--that the coaches’ salaries are higher, attendance is higher meaning higher home game expenses, and that the equipment for football is more expensive.
“If you throw out those figures, like renting out Veterans Stadium for the football team, for example, the expenditures for women are at 25% and the participation figure is about a third.”
Vargyas is not convinced.
“You’ll talk to a lot of men’s athletic directors who’ll tell you that everything is wonderful and that they are only meeting the demands of the marketplace,” she said. “They’ll tell you their sports programs are divided into three categories--men, women and the football team. That’s the stupidest argument I’ve heard. The last time I looked, the football team was part of the men’s program.”
Responds Reinstein: “It is quite expensive to run a football team. It is one gigantic team and there is nothing similar to it. The average football team has about 120 players and 10 coaches. The uniforms are more expensive. The coaches’ salaries are higher because you have to pay more to get the same quality coaches you have in other sports.
“You have to respond to the marketplace. It’s the same thing in academia. Some professors, like those in med school, get more than others. Universities operate in the marketplace.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, charged that in the years since Title IX has been in effect, Temple had failed to live up to its intent by providing some measure of equality between the men’s and women’s programs in terms of scholarship money, uniforms, modes of travel, hotel accommodations and locker rooms.
“There was one instance where the Temple football team and a women’s team were both going to William & Mary College an hour apart,” said one of the plaintiffs, Rollin Haffer, a badminton player and president of the Student Athlete Council at Temple while an undergraduate a decade ago. “The men flew there while the women had to go in a van.
“On overnight trips, the men stayed two to a room, one to a bed, while the women had to stay four to a room, two to a bed. Until recently, there was no separate locker room for the women. They had to share facilities with the entire female population at the school.
“On the road, the men were allowed to eat what they wanted. The women were limited to $11 a day.”
Haffer also cited a uniform problem. Temple’s colors are red and white, but the women always seemed to get poor quality uniforms that never matched, that had several different shades of red, according to Haffer.
“The men always had nice sweat suits with just the right colors,” she said.
There was an 8-year gap from the time the suit was filed and the actual trial and that, Reinstein said, accounts for much of the gap in the thinking between the two sides.
“The program that exists now is totally different from the one that existed when the suit was filed,” he said. “The plaintiffs admit that. A lot of the complaints have already been rectified.
“I’m not saying what we had before amounted to sex discrimination. Yes, there were some differences before. There were problems with locker-room facilities, for example, that have since been corrected. But a lot of the differences were caused by the fact we had two different programs.
“Now, there is just one program. When our college president, Peter Liacouras, combined the two programs in 1982, he made sure the women were going to be treated equally.
“The only valid comparison would be with the football team. They do fly, but most of the other men’s teams take a bus or a van just as the women do. The football team got meals, but other men’s teams were on per diem, just as the women.”
Even before then, Reinstein said, the problems were a lot bigger in the women’s minds than in their programs.
“Before, you had two separate departments of men’s and women’s sports, which each made its own decisions,” he said. “Some of the complaints about conditions were based on ignorance, not knowing what the other department was doing.
“Yes, the women may have had a lousy bus company that was always late, but what they didn’t know was that the men were using the same bus company. The grass is always greener. The women complained because they didn’t think they had good enough offices. Apparently they didn’t know the men had the same problem. Four male coaches had no offices at all. Not small offices. No offices.
“All the women would see was football and they would generalize from that about the entire men’s program. The football team had five or six road trips and they were served full meals. They have fairly huge people. Not all the men were housed two to a room. Sometimes it was four to a room, sometimes more, incredible as it sounds.”
This particular battle might have been settled in court, but Haffer believes that the shots taken by both sides may be just the opening salvo of a revolution.
“I think the discrimination is widespread,” she said. “Temple is not unique. This suit could be filed at any university. I think this is a test case, the first of its kind.”
Her attorney agrees.
“The legal ramifications of this case could be felt around the country,” Vargyas said. “Our figures show that one-third of the participants in collegiate athletics are women. Yet, at Temple, they were receiving only 15 to 20% of the operating money. When women are only getting one dollar out of five, that’s not equal. I think the problem is nationwide.”
Twenty years ago, before Title IX, colleges had an average of 2.5 women’s sports. Today that number is up to 7.31. In the 1973-74 school year, after Title IX had been passed but before it went into effect, there were 34,000 women competing athletically in 4-year schools in this country compared to 175,000 men.
About 16% of the athletic population was female, yet the women received only 2.1% of the athletic budget.
By 1978-79, after Title IX had officially gone into effect, 64,390 women were competing, 28.9% of the total. The women’s athletic budget, however, had risen only to 14.3%, according to figured compiled by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1980.
Today, 120,214 women are in athletic programs at the 4-year level. The men number 236,387, leaving the women about one-third of the total athletic population.
No updated figures have been available on athletic budgets since the 1980 report, but the growth for women at many universities is impressive.
At USC, for example, there were four women’s sports in 1973 with a total budget of $7,000. Today, nine sports are allocated about $1.9 million. The earliest numbers available at UCLA are from the 1974-75 year, when the women’s budget was $268,000. The latest figures put it at $1.6 million. At the University of Iowa, the budget has grown from $30,000 in the 1971-72 academic year to $3 million today.
None of it came easy.
“Anything new is always suspect,” said Barbara Hedges, associate director of athletics at USC. “There are still some pockets of resistance to women’s athletics, but those people have to be living in another world.”
Judith Holland, senior associate athletic director at UCLA, grew up in that world.
“I come from an era when women didn’t compete,” she said. “There was a lot of bias when I was an undergraduate at Sacramento State. We had an intramural program. We had play days where we basically just chose up teams. It was a heck of a lot of fun, but we didn’t get any better. We were just playing for playing’s sake.
“This all reflected society at that time. Women were not supposed to be competitive. They were not supposed to sweat a lot.”
R. Vivian Acosta, a Brooklyn College professor and president of the National Assn. for Girls and Women in Sport, and Linda Jean Carpenter, a fellow professor at the school, have made several studies of the progress of women’s sports.
“The main thrust of the attitude toward women as actual participants in sport was one of protectionism,” they wrote in “Sport and Higher Education,” a college textbook. “Women physical educators held the belief that women should not involve themselves in high-level athletics because doing so could easily lead to corruption as evidenced by the scandals, which seemed to permeate men’s competitive sports.”
Such opinions were held from the advent of women’s sports in the 1920s into the 60s.
“Women’s sports at this level were not even conceived of when I went to school,” said Dr. Judith Brame, women’s athletic director at Cal State Northridge. “It was not accepted the way it is now. In the mentality of the time, if you got to college, you played because you liked to play. You didn’t think in terms of scholarships. You coached just to coach. You didn’t think in terms of release time in addition to teaching.”
The first time Hedges realized she was being discriminated against was when she was ready to graduate from high school.
“All my male friends were getting scholarships,” she said. “I thought, ‘Hey, what is going on here? Something is wrong.’ ”
Grant, who has been at Iowa since 1973, was a field hockey player in her native Scotland before going to Canada to coach its national team. When she came south to the American Midwest to coach, she discovered a problem she hadn’t anticipated.
“I couldn’t believe what I found here,” she said. “It was not so much a lack of money or facilities as it was the attitude of women. Society didn’t approve of women in athletics. They knew it and reflected it.
“I just could not cope with a lack of interest on the part of women who were talented but not interested in developing beyond a point. I was not used to having to convince women to try out for sports on a national level, to convince them it was worthwhile. They were almost content to play at a recreational level.
“Looking back, it was understandable nobody was interested in sports at that level because nobody appreciated it.”
Wrote Acosta and Carpenter: “Sex stereotyping of women in sport still existed, and the public had not yet developed an interest in watching women play competitively. Furthermore, many believed that women lacked the interest to compete and/or compete as intensely as men. These myths have been difficult to overcome by a society that has been conditioned to accept the notion that the sportswoman is a social anomaly.”
The idea that women didn’t need physical education was still being accepted in an era when science was launching people into space.
“A woman’s body is not much different than a man’s,” Holland says. “They must stay active to stay healthy. If they don’t, diseases like osteoporosis can come on. That is a lack of calcium caused by a lack of activity.”
Incredibly there was no national governing body for women’s sports, similar to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., until 1966, when the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW) was formed. That was replaced 5 years later by the Assn. for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) which, in turn, effectively went out of business 5 years ago, leaving the NCAA to run women’s collegiate sports as well as men’s.
But the big change was Title IX. It specifically forbade sexual bias in “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
For some, it was as if the sky had fallen. Walter Byers, then the NCAA’s executive director, predicted that Title IX could cause the “possible doom of intercollegiate sports.”
Of course, nothing of the sort occurred.
“Nobody lost a dime because of Title IX,” Holland said. “But Title IX was just the catalyst. It was due to happen. The threat of government intervention brought them in, kicking and screaming.”
Title IX was dealt a serious blow in 1984 in the Grove City College vs. Bell case. In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title IX applied only to programs directly receiving federal funds.
But an effective counterpunch was delivered just a few months ago, when Congress, overriding President Reagan’s veto, passed civil rights legislation stipulating that anti-discrimination standards apply not only to specific federally-funded programs, but also to the entire institution or university where those programs are in effect.
Even if that bill had not passed, it would have been difficult to change the course of the women’s movement in sports.
Equality doesn’t come from catchy slogans, clever banners and steam-rolling marches.
That sort of thing may enlist the troops and set the course, but the journey itself is usually a far more tedious activity, involving thousands of tiny steps.
The real battles in women’s sports over the last 15 years have occurred in athletic offices with administrators of both sexes hunched over scheduling charts and financial ledgers.
“It’s been hard on everybody,” Holland said. “Anybody who is honest will tell you that. It took a lot of cooperation to make it work for all of us.
“For example, in basketball, they were not going to build another Pauley Pavilion. So the question was, how can we use the facility we had for both men and women?
“We knew we would not get the best practice time. Men’s basketball built Pauley Pavilion. There’s no getting around that. The men work out (in the) afternoon. So what we have done with the women is to have study hall in the afternoon, and then practice . . . in the evening.
“We’ve taken each thing as it came. The men’s and women’s gymnastics teams work out at the same time. Or they switch off the better times for important matches. They are both working for national titles. If we have a problem, we get both sides together.”
Some of the problems, said Northridge’s Brame, have far more to do with the desire to keep one’s own team up rather than the women down.
“When you’re a coach, you feel like this is my gym, my facility,” said Brame, herself a former women’s basketball coach. “There is only one program in your own mind-- my program. If people want to come in, your immediate reaction is, not on my time. Coaches are notorious for thinking me, myself, my program. You want them that way. You want them to think their program is the most important.
“So it takes time and communication to learn to work together. In basketball, when I was coaching, my team had to practice from 6 to 8 a.m.”
Despite such cooperation, however, it took a while for even some of the women to be convinced the goal was worth the effort.
“For a lot of coaches, there was a real sense of fear,” Brame recalled. “Women wanted it to happen, but they didn’t want to take away from what was already there. But it’s so terrific. Males have the opportunity. Why would it not be a great experience for women?”
Whereas the original idea in the majority of institutions when Title IX came in was to have separate athletic directors for the men and women, the system has now evolved into a mixture in many places. At UCLA, for instance, Holland oversees both men’s and women’s sports. That took a period of adjustment.
“People who had been here 20 to 25 years, who had been here for what seemed like forever, had to suddenly report to this lady,” she said. “ ‘What does she know?’ And I have to admit I was a little bit overbearing at times. I shouldn’t have been. But when I want something, I say what I want. I don’t have time to be messing around. I don’t pussyfoot around. I have to survive at a major institution fueled by politics.
“But I’m not pounding the table every minute for Title IX. It’s not that I don’t care. But I pick my spots.”
One spot she picked was Drake Stadium, where the women’s track team had been relegated to practicing at dusk, even though the facility has no lights.
“There was a fear that if the men’s and women’s squads were to train together, the men would be distracted,” Holland said. “There was a feeling that the women weren’t serious about their sport. That’s of course not true. The girls train hard. They’re not out there looking for husbands or boyfriends. They’re out there for legitimate purposes.
“We learned to practice together in track and field. When I first got involved, people said, ‘She’s going to favor the women.’ I want to see both be successful.
“The men used to have their own track meets, did things their own way. That left a lot of down time. We found that if we plugged the women in, ran their meet at the same time, then there was something going on every minute. Now we also run men’s and women’s gymnastics together. There has been no dispute over facilities for 3 or 4 years.”
The picture of progress is on display not only in Westwood, but elsewhere as well.
Said Iowa’s Grant: “If I could pick out one thing that is the most gratifying, it is that the attitude has really changed toward women’s sports in a relatively short time. They were not accepting it in the early ‘70s, and now, they are not only accepting but, in some parts of the country, administrators have been very supporting. Here at Iowa, we average about 6,000 for women’s basketball. Some men’s teams don’t get that.”
Money is now the biggest bone of contention in the fight for equality.
Ruth Cohoon, women’s athletic director at the University of Arkansas, remembers 20 years ago, when her school’s archery and bowling teams still competed by taking their shots at targets or pins and then mailing the results into state headquarters, where they were compared with those of other schools also too poor to travel.
Her school has come a long way, or has it? John Sutherland, who coaches the women’s basketball team at Arkansas, makes $23,800 a year. Nolan Richardson, who coaches the men’s team, makes $72,000.
Even at Iowa, regarded as a women’s success story, the men’s athletic budget remains more than twice that of the women.
“The funding for the women’s program remains a real concern,” Grant said. “There are so many inequities that still exist. For every free education given to a woman, two are given to the males.
“In an ideal society, if the population were about 50-50, the same ratio should apply to sports. It is difficult to accept in an institution where education is the primary goal. I can’t conceive that such an institution should afford one sex twice as many opportunities as the other.”
Said Hedges: “Title IX opened up a whole new world. It’s now a matter of awareness on the part of the public that it’s more than just football and basketball that need funds. Women’s programs need them just as much.”
But for what purpose? One male university official, who asked that his name not be used, posed that question, insisting that the drive for funds has resulted in a detour from the original destination. He zeroed in on Grant’s program at Iowa, a program that has actually shrunk since Title IX was enacted from 190 women competing in 12 sports to 160 in 10 sports, even though the women’s athletic budget at the school has grown 100 times over during the same period, from $30,000 to $3 million.
He said: “The philosophy of women’s athletics in the ‘70s is that this was an educational program and that therefore opportunities for students should be maximized.
“Now in the last 10 years, budgets for women’s athletics have gone up dramatically. But women administrators haven’t expanded, haven’t created new teams. Rather they have eliminated old teams and used the new money to win.
“Iowa is a perfect example. They’ve used their money to produce a smaller number of high-quality teams. They pay high salaries to coaches to win as many championships as possible, thus to produce as much revenue as possible. Maybe the idealistic model advocated earlier is just totally unrealistic.”
Such an argument is alien, however, to most schools where the problem is not what to do with the money, but what can be done without it. It’s not, “How do we spend it?” but, “How do we get it?”
There’s a good reason for that, of course. The men’s program provides a much larger source of income because of spectator interest. That’s the next big frontier for the women. Now that they’ve got the bodies on the field, they’ve got to work on putting more of them into the stands, thus providing a financial base.
Because the women don’t play football, a logical place to start would be basketball, the second most popular of the men’s sports, in terms of attendance and television ratings.
In a recent national survey, funded by a sporting goods company and conducted under the direction of the Women’s Sports Foundation, 87% of the 1,004 parents questioned said that sports are as important for girls as for boys.
But Holland, for one, is surprised that such acceptance hasn’t already happened to a greater degree at the college level.
“I don’t think women’s basketball has grown as fast as I thought it would,” she said. “In basketball, the men are bigger and stronger. There is no question that if people make the comparison, the women are going to come out on the short end. But you have to see women’s basketball for what it has to offer.
“We need to build the women up through regional games, maybe on ESPN or something like that,” she said. “Not just the Final Four at the end of the year. Show the top 10 matchups leading up to it. It would have to be a package where you would buy and produce the air time. And right now, we don’t have the money. It would cost $30,000 a game to produce, $10,000 more to buy air time.”
Grant thinks along the same lines.
“A lot of people don’t realize what they are missing,” she said. “If they could see the women play on television, see the skill level, they would support it. Television exposure would be nice. But in some places, they’d settle for any exposure.”
Temple sure would.
“The advertising budget for men’s sports is $500,000 at Temple,” Ellen Vargyas said. “For the women, it’s $945. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see why nobody goes to the women’s games.”
Countered Bob Reinstein of Temple: “In our advertising, we make professional decisions based on spectator interest and where we think we’ll get the best return on our money.
“The situation is that, on a national basis and in the Philadelphia region, there is great spectator interest in football and men’s basketball. If there was no advertising, attendance would still be greater than in other sports. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. In the past year, every one of our men’s basketball games sold out.
“If we spent as much in advertising on the other sports, are we going to get people to come out in those numbers? It’s just not going to happen. The amount of coverage of our men’s basketball team was amazing. There were stories every day, coverage by the national media.
“Would (Vargyas) say that because Temple is advertising, we have that kind of control over the media? That’s silly.
“I think the most important element of the settlement of our case was the agreement to hire someone to promote women’s sports. This is something not a lot of universities have done. If we are able to attract people, it could have a major impact on our program. But it’s really going to be a challenge, an uphill battle.
“In 1984, we put an advertisement in the papers to announce our women’s lacrosse team had won a national championship so people would know it, since the media didn’t cover it. We won a national championship again this year in lacrosse with an unbeaten team and 2,500 people show up for the championship game.
“Our basketball team made it into the NCAA tournament, where it lost, and the city wanted to have a parade.
“Now that could change. If interest develops, we’d be delighted to support other sports. Our purpose is not to dissuade people from coming to athletic events. This is not a men vs. women problem. Why do we not advertise baseball? We have a very successful baseball team. But there is very little interest in (college) baseball.”
Still with all the problems and without the advertising, women’s basketball continues to make great strides. And the biggest of all was made by a local player, Cheryl Miller of USC. She has been the lone superstar in the women’s game, the only instantly identifiable part of the product.
“She revolutionized women’s basketball,” Holland said. “She did so much for the sport, USC ought to put her shoes in gold.”
And her legacy continues to grow. A women’s game between Texas and Tennessee last season in Knoxville drew a record crowd of 24,563.
As progress continues on most fronts, there is one area where the losses have outnumbered the gains--management.
Whereas the number of women athletes and funding for their programs continues to grow, the number of women running those programs has actually shrunk. In 1972, 90-100% of the women’s teams were coached by women. That number is now down to 48%. The number of women coaching men has stayed steady--at less than 1%.
Linda Jean Carpenter, the Brooklyn College author, said: “In 1972, 90-100% of the women’s athletic programs were headed by females who made all of the decisions. Scheduling, budget personnel, they were in charge of it all. They didn’t have to answer to anyone. Now only 16% have that level of responsibility. And some of those are located in all-women’s colleges. If you took them out, that percentage would be even smaller. Even those women who are involved are not making the ultimate decisions, as they were in ’72.”
Carpenter gets her figures from an 11-year study of 800 4-year schools around the country, conducted by her and R. Vivian Acosta and partially funded by a grant from City University of New York. Carpenter and Acosta send out annual surveys and usually get a response somewhere more than 70%.
“We found some women in administrative positions who were really secretaries,” Carpenter said. “In last year’s survey, we saw more of that than before. People would write, ‘I’m the woman in charge, but I have no power. I have the title, but no authority.’ ”
If the present climate for the woman athlete can best be described as the Enlightened Age, then certainly the past could be categorized as the Dark Ages. But to many of today’s female athletes, it’s the Forgotten Age.
Most of today’s athletes enter college expecting a full program to be in operation in their sport. That’s reasonable. But some of the pioneers kind of wish their struggles hadn’t been so thoroughly obliterated from memory, to serve as an example if nothing else.
“You can’t go through a history lesson on why I should be more grateful,” Holland said, shrugging.
That’s what it is now, Brame feels, just ancient history.
“Students coming out of high school, their basics skills are vastly improved,” she said. “Now people say, ‘Yes, women’s athletics is a legitimate kind of thing to do.’ Our generation got battered and bruised pretty good, but there is no concept of what some people had to go through to have what you have now. The athletes now don’t even think in terms of legitimate. It just is and they’re a part of it.”
Said Grant: “The women today have difficulty believing what happened before because it’s so far from what they enjoy today. One thing that concerns me is that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of interest in learning.”
So yes, women have come a long way in college sports. But not all the way. The battle, Holland warns, is far from over.
“So many women still lack aggressiveness,” she said. “When it comes to good athletes, a son is someone we expect it of. I don’t know if people have those expectations of their daughters. Men can get by on luck. I really believe that. Women have to be better. We expect more.”