Women: The Complexities of
Intercollegiate Athletic Equality
From bloomers to spandex shorts, from Basquette to prime-time basketball, and from three dribbles to powering to the hoop, signs of the remarkable changes wrought in women's sport over the past 100 years can be found in virtually every aspect of American society. For the generation of men and women born in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s who have witnessed the emergence of the American Basketball League, the Colorado Silver Bullets, and the Women's National Basketball Association, the notion that women's professional sport prospects were once largely restricted to tennis and golf seems unbelievable.1 Perhaps even more remote is the idea that less than 25 years ago athletically gifted girls, could not aspire to earn athletic scholarships because those kinds of scholarships simply did not exist for women.
In 1997, as women comprise 37 percent of college athletes and are the recipients of over $212 million dollars of athletic scholarship money nationally, the absence of athletic scholarships for women appears almost unthinkable.2 And yet, there was a time not so long ago when the leadership of women's athletics thoroughly opposed such awards because they believed athletic scholarships to be a form of student exploitation and educational irresponsibility. To examine and reflect on the rationale behind their opposition to athletic scholarships and how that opposition fit within the overall evolution of women's intercollegiate athletics on college campuses reveal a great deal about the educational and philosophical dilemmas posed by the effective professionalization of both female and male student athletes.