It may not surprise you that 22,000 fans swarmed into a 15,000-seat basketball arena in Iowa City early this year to watch a heavily promoted game between the University of Iowa and Ohio State. But what if you knew it was a women's basketball game they came to watch? Such scenes may not seem unusual much longer. In the 13 years since congressional civil rights legislation (Title IX) effectively banned sex discrimination in higher-education institutions receiving federal aid, women's sports have made phenomenal progress:
The number of women involved in intercollegiate sports has skyrocketed from 16,000 in 1972 to over 150,000 today.
More than 10,000 college scholarships are now available for qualified female athletes, compared with virtually none in 1971.
Colleges and universities now spend more than 16 percent of their athletic budgets on women, compared with 2 percent in 1972, according to a recent National Organization of Women report.
``I do not believe we would have made significant progress without Title IX,'' says Dr. Christine Grant, director of women's athletics at the University of Iowa.
Barbara Hedges, associate director of athletics at the University of Southern California, states that the 1972-73 season was the ``beginning of the modern era for women's athletics at the college level. [Title IX] created a public awareness of opportunity for girls and women in sports.''
Julie Edgar began to compete on her high school's golf team soon after the sport was offered for girls as a result of Title IX. She went on to a full athletic scholarship to the University of Iowa and now plans a career as a golf coach, hoping eventually to go into sports administration.
``It's hard for me to realize that people 10 years ago didn't have these opportunities,'' says Dee Ann Davidson, a volleyball scholarship student who just graduated from the University of Iowa. ``You tend to take it for granted.''
Looking back on more than a decade of progress in women's college athletics, Iowa's Dr. Grant, a native of Edinburgh, offers some perspective: ``In 1969, I came to the States, anticipating terrific opportunities for women,'' she recalls. ``I was totally taken aback. . . . The discrepancies [between men's and women's programs] were appalling,'' not only for the lack of funding, but in socal attitudes as well. Her own background, as a student in Scotland, and later as the coach for the Canadian women's field hockey team, had been vastly different. Opportunities for young girls and women in sports in both countries were very good, especially in Canada, she says.
In 1973, just one year after Title IX legislation was passed, Ms. Grant was appointed the University of Iowa's first director of women's athletics. Speaking of the progress her own department has made since then, she says: ``It's really a phenomenon. . . . When you look at the tangible aspects of the program -- the funding -- in 1973 our total budget was around $15,000. Today it is over $2 million for the women's program alone.''
Colleges and universities have begun to feel the impact of women's growing involvement in sports: Spectator interest is up and alumni support is growing. As the proportion of women student athletes has grown, their members seem to have averted two problems that have dogged men's athletics: a reputation for poor academic performance, and illegal recruiting practices.
Several studies have shown that female athletes tend to perform better academically than their male counterparts. In fact, a recent Iowa State University study showed female athletes had a grade-point average higher than the average student at the university. (``There's a difference between the student-athlete and a regular student,'' explains Julie Edgar. ``The athlete goes to practice and knows she has to immediately go and study afterwards. There's no TV, no sitting around the lounge talking. . . . You learn to set goals.'')
As for the ``cleaner'' image women's college athletics has, some feel this may simply reflect the fact that the stakes in women's sports are not yet as high as in men's sports, where the lure of multimillion-dollar professional sports contracts can tempt a student athlete or his coach to break the rules.
David Berst, director of enforcement at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, says that, although violations of regulations occur less frequently in women's programs than in men's, he feels this is ``simply a matter, so far, of higher perceived stakes in men's programs justifying improper conduct. I see the same kinds of forces at play in women's programs and I do suspect they [violations] will be on the increase.''
Others disagree. ``People have been saying that for 10 years,'' says Dr. Judith Holland of the University of California, Los Angeles. ``[But] some other elements in women's sport have an impact here. People who are involved with women's sports now came up through the educational system,'' rather than coming into the field from professional sports, as is often the case in men's athletics. ``They are in tune with the role of athletics within the total framework of education,'' she says. ``That philosophy gives you a real different bent [than the men's] and affects decisions. . . .''
Alumni support has also begun to reflect the growing popularity of women's sports. Long a males-only bastion, alumni booster groups have sprung up to give financial support to the women's athletic programs and teams of their alma maters. Stanford University's Cardinal Club, for example, raised more than $800,000 last year at an auction for financial aid for female athletes.
The progress women's sports has made is having a much more far-reaching effect on students than just the variety and quality of athletic programs available, says Ms. Hedges. Whole new avenues of career choice for graduates have opened up as a result.
``I find very exciting all the opportunities available to young women who are interested in sports-related areas -- broadcasting, athletic training, coaching, athletic administration, as well as [other] major areas: promotions and marketing, fund raising, and sports writing,'' Hedges says. ``The whole field is opening up, as the direct result of women participating in athletics.''