Power plays in the colleges
Ten years ago there were no women's intercollegiate sports championship competitions. Next year there will be 77 -- half of which will be brand new. Sounds great?
Those 77 championships involve three competing organizations, two of them rookies in governing women's sports. Each of the three will crown its own National Women's Basketball Champion, National Women's Volleyball Champion, National Women's Diving champion -- all the makings of a three-ring circus.
It amounts to everyone trying to get a thumb into the same pie, hoping to be able to cart off the whole sticky mess.
Those 77 women's championships are in contrast to about 52 for men's sports, although there are about twice as many male college athletes as female. And none of the new championships are in a new sport. Is this unnecessary duplication, as some say? Or increased opportunity?
Whichever, the national championships are only the public battleground for a much larger struggle: Should women's sports be like men's sports, or should they be a whole new ball game?
On the outcome of this struggle, now quietly but fiercely being waged, rides the future of women's intercollegiate sports.
The debate centers on the major governing bodies of intercollegiate sports, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), a 10-year-old organization exclusively concerned with women's sports, and the 75-year-old National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), which until this year had concerned itself only with men's sports.
The third organization, the 50-year-old National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), seems to be acting mostly out of self-defense in offering women's championships, so that it won't be overwhelmed any more than it already is by the NCAA. The NAIA has recently shown willingness to try to work things out with the AIAW.
Last January at the NCAA annual convention, by excruciatingly close votes and slick parliamentary moves, delegates approved the championship program for next year and a plan to integrate women into the NCAA governing structure, guaranteeing them a certain number of seats on committees.
This move has been called everything from a "power play," a "blitzkrieg against a group of people who have worked hard to develop their own organization ," and "taking the women against their will" to "providing options for women's athletics" and "a fresh and renewed impetus to intercollegiate athletics for women."
The NCAA says it wants to bestow visibility, money, and the NCAA name -- them name in college sports -- on women. Big-time sports, just like the men.
And big-time problems, the AIAW counters. The newer women's organization maintains it offers an "alternative approach," emphasizing the rights of the athletes themselves and playing down recruiting, an approach which until now has protected women's sports from the problems that have haunted men's sports.
Each side grimly insists it's not men-vs.-women.Each side fervently declares it has the best interest of the women at heart.
The AIAW claims that the NCAA is out to take over women's sports, and control all collegiate sports. The NCAA says it simply wants to offer an option in women's sports.
The AIAW thinks the NCAA is a Johnny-come-lately, appearing just in time to reap the benefits of the AIAW's hard work. The NCAA says it's been waiting until it was sure the women were serious about athletics.
The AIAW claims it's male administrators making decisions for women without heeding their wishes. The NCAA maintains it's an Institutional decision.
The AIAW criticizes the wisdom -- and the legality -- of trying to shoehorn women into an organization designed to fit men. The NCAA says that's why the next four years will be a phase-in time, a "transitional period" during which it will examine and modify its rules to accommodate women.
The AIAW calls this transitional period "a blueprint for chaos," which will dilute the strength of women's sports, if not crush the AIAW and its alternative approach. It is considering legal action to stop the new championships. The NCAA says that women's sports will thrive under its wing -- and that if it's good for women's sports, it's good for both organizations.
Support for the AIAW position has come from prominent sports figures, student leaders, women's groups, and educational groups.
One of the most ardent supporters of the NCAA plan is a past president of AIAW. Another NCAA backer currently serves on the AIAW executive board. The women hired by the NCAA to coordinate the new championships is also a longtime activist in AIAW. In early May, the AIAW adopted a "conflict of interest" policy, which prohibits AIAW officers from serving as a representative in any other sport governing body not affiliated with the AIAW. This will affect at least four AIAW officers.
THe NCAA move has, in short, split the women's ranks between those who are willing to wait a bit longer while the AIAW grows, and those who are tired of waiting for the organizations to find common ground and want to "watch women's athletics rise to a new plateau," as Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, says.
Back when women's collegiate sports were mostly a courtful of women lurching around a basketball floor, not allowed to dribble more than three times or cross the center line, no one was much interested in governing them. The NCAA and NAIA were occupied with their programs for men. The prevailing philosophy among those involved in women's programs was to provide sports for everybody and avoid high-level competition, which, it was felt, was the root of the problems men faced. They looked aghast at men's sports, which have repeatedly been sullied by scandal, and determined not to let the same happen to women.
The person forgotten in all this was the highly capable woman athlete. Gradually the demand for more competitive situations grew, and physical educators responded. Out of an amazing jumble of acronyms spawned by government agencies and private associations emerged the AIAW 10 years ago, designed to meet the needs of all women athletes.
Starting from scratch, the AIAW has built a program of 40 national championships in 18 sports (some of the sports have divisional championships). It has been in the forefront of the fights over Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions. And it has struggled to stay balanced on the fine line between having enough sports and having too much.
This is what the AIAW calls its "alternative approach." After years of watching their male counterparts -- coaches and students --dals, the founders of AIAW laid out new rules that severely curtailed recruiting and gave special attention to the rights of the student athletes, including seats on committees and the national board.
It recently inaugurated a precedent-setting affirmative-action policy assuring blacks and members of other minorities at least 20 percent representation on all AIAW committees and task forces.
There are still many things the AIAW would like to do. Its regulation covering students who change schools has been nettlesome to it. The loopholes were so big that students could jump schools -- and teams -- without missing a game. But a recently adopted refinement should help a great deal. The AIAW would like to set in motion a computerized program to check on whether athletes are making normal academic progress. It would also like to use a computerized system to coordinate the visits of economically disadvantaged athletes to prospective campuses, since under AIAW rules the school cannot pay for those visits, nor can the coach visit the athlete's home. And it has been slowly winning more and more television coverage of its events.
"Everybody says, 'Wow, look what you've built!'" says Donna Lopiano, president of AIAW. "What we've built we've built in 10 years. And it's far from perfect. We haven't had the benefit of 50, 70 years to refine our rules system. We've literally thrown something together in 10 years."
Right now, the two organizations exist side by side on most campuses. Most colleges that belong to the AIAW also belong to the NCAA, since, until now, no one organization served both men's and women's athletics. This means that also coexisting on campuses are two very different sets of rules, one for men and one for women.
The differences between the AIAW and the NCAA are hard to miss. Recruiting regulations is a big one: Unlike the AIAW, the NCAA allows schools to finance on-campus visits for high school students and permits college coaches multiple visits to the athlete at his home. There is no formal student voice in the NCAA; that comes at the "institutional level," says one NCAA staff member, explaining that athletic directors can seek out student opinion on campus. Rules governing eligibility for athletic competition also differ drastically between the organizations.
But the giant difference is money.
The NCAA expects to net $22.5 million in 1980-81; the AIAW, about $800,000. Membership dues account for less than 1 percent of the NCAA income, but about 45 percent of AIAW's. The big bucks come from television contracts. The gap in money is also evident in individual schools' programs. Since recruiting is minimal for women's programs, their overall cost is also much smaller. For example, the University of New Mexico allocates "well over $100,000" for recruiting in its men's program, and "about a quarter of that" in its women's program, says Linda Estes, women's athletic director there.
A good part of the NCAA's income goes right back to the schools, or at least the ones that qualify for champioships. The AIAW would love to be able to do this; in fact, last year some schools did receive modest reimbursement for the Division I basketball championship.
These differences in the organizations make it hard for the colleges, members and supporters of both admit. Some fret about the legality of applying different rules to men and women.Others complain about the long hours they must spend explaining AIAW rules and structure to a public that is at home with only the NCAA way of doing things. Some chafe at not being allowed to design as high-powered a program for women as they can for men. Nearly everyone moans about the money "down a hole" necessary to compete in AIAW championships without hope of reimbursement.
There have been awkward overtures from both sides over the years about trying to work out some sort of cooperative arrangement between the organizations, either a union of the groups or an alliance of some sort, but the most that has been accomplished was a committee or two, and bad feelings.
The NCAA has talked for years about including women in its programs. It says it went ahead with this plan rather than pursue talks with the AIAW because that was the will of its members, represented, by and large, by male athletic directors. On the other hand, the AIAW membership, representing basically the same schools, showed overwhelming (282-40) opposition to the NCAA proposal at its January convention, days before the NCAA voted to adopt the plan. In this case, it was the women administrators making known their feelings about the direction they wanted their own programs to take.
Under the NCAA plan, colleges have several options: They can immediately place their women's programs in the NCAA; They can keep them in the AIAW; or they can use a four-year "transitional period" of dual membership. This third choice allows schools to send qualifying teams to NCAA championships but play under AIAW rules, or any other rules they might have been playing under previously.
The advantages of the third choice are clear: A college can play by AIAW's rules, which means small recruiting budgets, yet compete in NCAA championships, where the possibilities of reimbursement for travel expenses are much greater. Clearly eating your cake and having it too.
About 80 percent of AIAW's members have renewed their memberships for next year. The AIAW will know in the next few days how many of those schools will send teams to the NCAA championships over its championships. Only then, says president Lopiano, will the AIAW know "if we can make a go of it the year after next." The wholesale exodus of schools from the AIAW championships would leave the organization with little influence in intercollegiate sports.
It's a hard choice for many schools that believe in the AIAW approach but can't take their eyes off the NCAA money.
"My college got $20,000 from the NCAA for onem televised football game," recalls a women athletic director at a large university, who, along with many others, asks not to be identified. "I'm compromising my principles, but if I want to work here I have no choice." She has chosen the third route for her school.
"I understand the pragmatism, but the price is too much to pay," says Brown University's Arlene Gorton, whose program will remain wholly within the AIAW, as will all the other Ivy League schools. Moving to the NCAA, she feels, would be selling out ethically.
Ethical principles aside, one of the few schools that have taken a close look at what financial difference it would make to join the NCAA is Florida State University. There, athletic director Barbara Palmer calculated it would cost her program an extra $70,000 in recruiting alone if she followed NCAA rules.
Well, then, she can adhere to the AIAW rules, right? The fear among many is that the women won't really have this choice for very long. They say that as their competition chooses to join the NCAA, they will all be forced into recruiting -- and, realistically, what will go out the window is the option to choose which program they want. J. Frank Broyles, athletic director at the University of Arkansas, who says he resigned as head football coach because of the pressures of recruiting, explains:
"My women are going to want to compete for national championships. That's fine. If they do this, they've got to have a good team -- they've got to meet competition. Any coach knows he's got to meet competition. If my neighbor can go out and talk to a prospect in their homes and pay their way to the campus [as allowed by the NCAA], and I choose to stay in the AIAW rules, and I can't, how can I compete for the national championships?"
Adds Christine Grant, past president of AIAW, "If one institution recruits women, there are no options." The domino theory of women's intercollegiate athletics.
Indeed, the NCAA itself is starting to recognize the strain recruiting is taking on coaches and is struggling to redefine some of its recruiting regulations, in what promises to be a long and arduous self-examination before any significant changes are possible.
In the meantime, the gamble many schools are taking is that once they begin to recruit women, the financial costs will be more than offset by the returns from championship participation.
For the past 10 years of its 75-year history, the NCAA has been able to reimburse schools in varying degrees for participation in championships. Those paybacks have been guaranteed for the past six years. In 1979-80, 549 colleges (about three-quarters of the NCAA's members) shared $4,159,603 -- an average of
This is where NCAA proponent Linda Estes at the University of New Mexico plans to cash in. "I don't see any changes [in costs] at my school," she says. "It wasn't AIAW that kept the costs down."
She doesn't think her recruiting budget will change drastically because of NCAA membership. "It'll be Title IX that will bring that about."
Colleges have been required to treat both sexes comparably for several years, even while the men's and women's programs were in different organizations and subject to different regulations. The Department of Education maintained that there was nothing in those differing rules that requiredm discrimination. For example, the organizational rules applying to recruiting and financial aid generally set the upper limits on what a college can do; there is nothing in the rules saying you have to go to the limit. The NCAA might allowm a college to spend much more on recruiting men than the AIAW allows for women, but it does not requirem it.
Once a college has both its men's and women's programs in the NCAA, the college is then bound by Title IX to provide for each equitably under its rules. This could mean doubling the ante, or, in these penny-pinching times, it could mean cutting the men's budget to bolster the women's.
The NCAA doesn't like Title IX very much. It thinks it shouldn't even apply to athletics. This is perhaps the supreme irony of the entire intercollegiate athletics brouhaha. On the one hand, the NCAA maintains it is committed to promoting women's sports. On the other, even though Title IX is widely regarded as being the key to the gym for women, the NCAA is still in court fighting it, claiming that as it is interpreted now, Title IX goes beyond what it was designed to do. (See the preceding article in this series for a detailed explanation.)
What is it like to be a woman in an organization that doesn't like Title IX?
"I try not to let the NCAA's Title IX suit bother me at all," says Ruth Berkey, director of the NCAA's women's championships.
But, she allows, a recent court decision in Ann Arbor, Mich., which agreed with the NCAA's position that Title IX doesn't apply to athletics "makes me nervous."
However, she adds, whatever happens with the Title IX court case, it will "still have no effect on what the NCAA does for women athletes."
The NCAA "is dedicated to doing a great job for women athletes like we do for the men," Tom Hansen, assistant executive director, says.
Ruth Berkey agrees. As someone long active in AIAW, she sees her involvement with the NCAA not so much as jumping camp as looking out for women.
"My mission is what's in the best interests of the female athlete," she explains. "So I don't feel I was leaving one and joining another."
What she'd like to see is women "experience recognition" on television. That will not only enhance public appreciation for women athletes, it will help the athletes as they pursue professional sports.
"I have no question in my mind about this [women joining the NCAA] being in the best interest of female athletes. I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel that way."
Her thoughts are echoed by other women who feel the NCAA is offering a good deal. Judith Holland, athletic director at UCLA and a past president of AIAW, says, "It was a natural progression for me." The NCAA resources -- money, statistical services, media contacts --
"We owe an awful lot to AIAW," explains Nora Lynn Finch of North Carolina State University, who once served on the AIAW executive board and now chairs an NCAA committee. "But I'm ready for this program to move above" what she considers the plateau AIAW is on.
Ruth Berkey has been given a $2.4 million budget to finance the 1981-82 championships, a one-time fund the NCAA was holding in reserve expressly to finance women's championships.
All NCAA championship participants -- both men and women -- are guaranteed reimbursement of travel costs for the 1981-82 season. This is a change from the last two years, when colleges received travel costs and a per diem allowance of up to $50 per athlete. Next year's championships will pay this per diem only "if the event generates enough money," Tom Hansen explains.
The funding for the 1982-83 year is not in the pocket yet. Mr. Hansen expects that some of the money will come from revenues from the men's Division I basketball championship, football TV contracts, and -- just possibly -- increased membership dues.
Thus far the NCAA has set dates for 15 of its 1981-82 women's championships, 9 of which conflict with the previously established AIAW dates.
Despites the legislated inclusion of women on NCAA committees, some remain skeptical that their voices will be heard. They think they will be drowned out by the men, with their differing interests and needs.
"I'm unhappy to think that policies for women will be based on where the men's basketball and football programs are placed," says Arlene Gorton. Under the NCAA plan, the women's program at any given college, irrespective of its size, will be placed in the same division as the men's program, which is often at a different strength of development. Thus, some weak women's teams will be forced to compete against far stronger opponents, simply because their school's male teams excel.
"I see a real diminishing of women in policymaking decisions of intercollegiate athletics," Arlene says.
Nora Lynn Finch at North Carolina State thinks otherwise. "It's interesting how much the attitude toward me has changed in three months -- I'm no longer a villain." She thinks that being on the inside of the NCAA has given her greater clout. She is suggesting the same ideas, but now the men listen.
The majority of athletic programs in the US are under a male athletic director, with a female assistant who has authority only over the women's program. This structure has evolved only in the last few years, according to a 1979 survey by Kate Mathison, assistant athletic director at the University of Minnesota. She found that only 6 percent of programs were merged this way in 1972; then, most women's programs were separate from the men's, with a female athletic director. Seven years later, 64 percent had merged under a male athletic director, and in 58 percent of those cases, the woman, now the assistant, was at least as qualified as the man to direct the entire merged program, she concluded. Of the 738 active members of NCAA, women are athletic directors with authority over both the men's and women's programs at fewer than two dozen colleges.
NCAA executive director Walter Byers thinks he knows why.
"I believe that a Judith Holland will never be able to be athletic director at UCLA . . . will never be able to achieve athletic director at a major university, until they are where the action is. And the action is raising funds from alumni, managing pressure programs, dealing with the press and the media, hiring major coaches in top spectator programs. Women, unless they get into integrated structures and get tested by the fire of the action, are never going to be able to achieve those jobs."
It's just that sort of program that the AIAW and its lower-key approach are trying to avoid. What gets lost in the shuffle of all that fund raising and dealing with the press is the student athlete. AIAW supporters talk a lot about keeping sports in perspective.
"When you get into things like NCAA signing $48 million TV contracts for the sport of basketball, to me that's a sign of losing perspective," says Merrily Baker, women's athletic director at Princeton University and AIAW president-elect. "And you begin to make decisions based on a product rather than people. The educator in me doesn't like that necessarily."
Says Donna Lopiano, "Is it better for the visibility of the program and the person in that position, or is it better for the kids? It comes down to that."
Next: Problems, promises, and the future