Gender Equity: Take Note of Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Warning: Some portions of this column are politically incorrect.

This column will wander into one of those no-win discussions about women athletes, gender equity and Title IX. This volatile issue - the merits of court-ordered equality in NCAA sports - has become a lot like race relations in this nation; we're incapable of honesty. There's so much posturing and defensiveness that we lose the ability to communicate.

A brief, two-part background: Last month the Supreme Court denied Brown University's appeal of a lower court's decision requiring the number of varsity sports positions for men and women to match each group's overall percentage in the student body. To put it another way: If women at, say, the University of Missouri comprise 55 percent of the student body, then 55 percent of the varsity openings must be reserved for women. This stems from 1972's Title IX legislation passed by Congress, which bans all government-run schools or private schools receiving federal funds from discriminating based on gender. Next came the release of the NCAA five-year Gender Equity Study. Although the number of women athletes has been increasing - with the number of male athletes decreasing - colleges still spend most of their money on men's programs. Women made gains in participation, scholarship dollars, coaching salaries and operating expenditures. The reaction among women administrators was mostly negative. "The fact is that expenses are escalating at such a pace in intercollegiate athletics that they offset any gains overall for women," said St. Louisan Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Gateway Conference and head of the NCAA committee on women's athletics. "It's important to note any progress as good news. However, it is disheartening to know after 25 years of Title IX, we still are making only slow progress in women's athletics." That's a narrow interpretation. There is no magic wand to make all of the numbers perfect in one year or five years. But some amazing progress has been made. Women had a 70 percent increase in scholarships, a 45 percent increase in head coaches' salaries, a 71 percent increase in recruiting budget, a 75 percent increase in assistant coaches' salaries, an 89 percent increase in operating expenses. Take a look around. Women are more prominent and popular than ever on the sports landscape. There are two pro basketball leagues for women. In July, the Women's Professional Fastpitch League starts with six teams in the Southeast. FIFA has formalized plans for the 1999 women's soccer World Cup in the U.S., to be played in six cities across the country. There are plans for a women's pro soccer league by April 1998. High-profile women athletes have never been more marketable. Sports Illustrated launched a women's magazine last month; another magazine, Conde Nast Sports for Women, makes its debut in October. And this is only the beginning. According to one study, 2,367,038 high school girls played sports in 1995-96. This is a revolution in progress. As much as I respect Patty Viverito, I refuse to accept her "slow progress" conclusion. Let's return to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The U.S. women won gold in soccer, basketball, softball, gymnastics, synchronized swimming. This obviously can be attributed to talent, but it also indicates strong support for women's sports in this nation. The U.S. women took advantage of funding and training. They were not relegated to secondary status. Despite all the doom-and-gloom spin, the system is starting to work for women. "Young girls have more opportunities than I ever had," softball star Dot Richardson said. "The best thing of all about these Olympics is it shows how supportive our society has become about athletes, regardless of their gender." Exactly. Instead of finding satisfaction in these very real achievements, women administrators in the NCAA continue to stress the disparity in spending. …