Ensuring Fair Play for Women and Men : Gender-equality issue in collegiate sports gets complicated

Last month, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. backed away from a stringent set of gender equity guidelines after the big-time football schools threatened to pull out of the organization. When football is included, those schools face a difficult choice: a drastic increase in expenditure on women's sports or a comparably drastic elimination of other men's sports to maintain gender equity without spending new money.

At one big-time football school, UCLA, the attempt to chart a middle course--pursuing gender equity but preserving football--has already led to such much-resented anomalies as the elimination of competitive swimming for men alongside its preservation for women.

The UCLA jolt may prove the first of many to come. Last June, Sanya Tyler, women's basketball coach at Howard University, sued and won $2.4 million (later reduced to $1.1 million) in damages for sex discrimination. Her salary had been about half that of her men's basketball counterpart, Butch Beard.

Marianne Stanley, women's basketball coach at the University of Southern California until last summer, when negotiations over a contract renewal broke down, is suing her former employer for $8 million, alleging sex discrimination.

Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination at schools receiving federal money, has been on the books for 21 years, but dollar-for-dollar male-female equality among coaches has been rare. Lawsuits have also been rare until recently. However, though rare, dollar-for-dollar equality is no longer unknown. At the University of Virginia, basketball coaches Jeff Jones and Debbie Ryan each earn $106,000. Tara VanDerveer, Stanford's women's basketball coach, recently won a contract that will bring her to salary parity with the men's basketball coach at Stanford within 18 months. The trend is clear, and lawsuits and organized pressure from women's sports organizations may be about to accelerate it.

Stanley has lost a suit for temporary reinstatement while her discrimination case is in court. (That case may be decided as early as Nov. 1.) But whether she wins or loses, a broad change is at hand that will affect not just the place of athletics in the lives of women but also the place of sports--including semiprofessional, income-producing sports--in the life of the American university as a whole.

The issues to be negotiated are many. For example, should sports money be divided on the basis of men versus women on campus or of men versus women who go out for an athletic team of some kind?

The possible answers to that question turn out to be several; and women's sports versus men's sports itself is only the beginning. A kind of chain reaction links gender equity to other kinds of equity: big sports versus little sports, athletic scholarships versus non-athletic scholarships, sports as a campus-run business versus newer forms of campus-run business, and more.

Law alone, however indispensable, is no adequate guide for this new era. We can only urge college administrators to take timely and prudent thought for a transformation whose real consequences are only now becoming apparent.

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