Women's college basketball is enjoying unprecedented popularity in the United States. ESPN and other sports networks report results of both men's and women's games on their "tickers" and news programs (Tuggle, 1997) and NCAA Division I women's basketball games are available for viewing on a variety of broadcast, cable, and satellite networks. This popularity extends to the professional ranks where two women's leagues (the American Basketball League and the Women's National Basketball Association) compete in the United States.
Women's Participation in Sports
The future has never been so promising for American women's basketball. However, until recently, women college athletes faced nearly empty arenas, virtually no television exposure, fewer scholarships than the men's programs, unfavorable practice times, hand-me-down uniforms, and no North American prospects for a professional career. Twenty-four years after the passage of Title IX -- legislation intended to eliminate sports disparities based on gender--the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) documented that a "gap ... remains in overall opportunity between men's programs and women's programs (1996, p. 1)."
Certainly, progress has been made. However, more progress needs to be made. Williams, Lawrence, and Rowe (1985) note that men have excluded or restricted women from sports competition since before the original Olympic games. Only in the past 100 years has society afforded sporting opportunities for women. Williams et al. concluded that "just as international competition accommodates national (political) rivalries, so gender inequities and conflicts are reflected in, and perpetuated by sport (1985, p. 639)."
Leonard (1988) tracked the increase in women's participation in sport noting that in the early 1970s, before Title IX, women comprised only seven percent of all high school athletes and colleges awarded essentially no scholarships for women. By 1982, ten years after Title IX, the percentage of high school women athletes had increased to 35 percent. By 1985, basketball was the most popular sport for young women and colleges awarded more than 10,000 athletic scholarships to women. In 1996, 100,000 women competed in intercollegiate sports programs (General Accounting Office, 1996). While the increase is no-table, women--who comprise about one-half of all undergraduates --still account for only one-third of all collegiate athletes (pp. 1, 3). Naughton (1997) observed that the "glass is half empty and half full" noting that women now comprise 37 percent of college athletes and receive 38 percent of athletic scholarships. Naughton also noted that women do not receive fair funding at many institutions. (See "Fact File," 1997 for a comprehensive summary of funding, separated by gender, for all NCAA Division I institutions.)
Women have also made progress in Olympic competition. The founder of the "Modern Olympics," Baron Pierre de Coubertin, banned women from Olympic competition (Davenport, 1988). Indeed, the International Olympic Committee had no women members until 1981 (Davenport, 1988; DeFrantz, 1988), and the Olympic Charter still does not ban discrimination based on gender (Stier, 1992).
Golf and lawn tennis were the first areas of Olympic competition for women (added in 1900). Archery was added in 1904. Swimming and diving were added for the 1912 Olympics, although the United States voted against those additions (Welch 1975). By contrast, the 1984 Olympics boasted twice as many women athletes as had ever participated -- approximately 2,500. The inclusion of twelve new events for women also distinguished the 1984 Olympics (Leonard, 1988). The 1996 Olympics were considered a breakthrough year for women -- particularly American women. Most telling was the need to move women's basketball from the Morehouse College gym to the Georgia Dome where American women's basketball drew more than 30,000 fans per game (Zoglin, 1996). …