Gender crossfire over sports job. EXPERIENCE VS. STARDOM

JIM HAYES runs a car dealership in Harrisburg, Ill. He is an enthusiastic booster of sports at nearby Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Make that men's sports. Back in September, a woman, Charlotte West, was named SIUC's acting athletic director to replace Jim Livengood, who moved to Washington State. Livengood drove a car - courtesy of Hayes - a tradition that Hayes established several years ago when former Chicago Bears football great Gale Sayers was the athletic director.

``As soon as he found out I was acting AD, he took the car away,'' said West, a highly regarded administrator with a national reputation and a doctorate, who just completed her 31st year at the school. Hayes took away the car, he said, because the appointment wasn't permanent. But he made it clear that even if it were, West wouldn't get one.

``In my opinion there's not any woman in the country that I know that could do the job of AD,'' he said. ``To put a woman in there, when she's got to mix and mingle with men, with boosters, it'll be a failure. This is still a man's job.''

Hayes can relax. College sports administration remains one of the last bastions of the ``old-boy network.'' Last week SIU named Jim Hart, a former SIU star and a 19-year veteran of the National Football League, to be its AD. Hart will get a car if he wants one, Hayes said.

But what women on the campus - and across the country - seem to want is an explanation. Why was a highly qualified, popular woman bypassed for a man with no experience in the field? They're calling it blatant gender discrimination.

After serving for 10 months as acting AD, after not even making the list of finalists in a similar search three years ago, West was passed over again.

SIU, with a student enrollment of 24,160, was being watched as a test case for women in athletic administration. Had West been hired, she would have become the only woman directing an athletic program at the approximately 190 National Collegiate Athletic Association schools that play football in Division I or I-AA.

The only other woman in such a role was Mary Alice Hill at San Diego State, who was fired in mid-1985 after less than a year on the job.

``I was just appalled when I heard she [West] didn't get it,'' said Christine Grant, director of women's athletics at the University of Iowa. ``If Charlotte West, with her credentials - one of the most fair-minded, efficient, ethical people I know - if she isn't qualified, what woman is? Frankly, Southern Illinois does not deserve Charlotte West.''

Women coaches at SIU also were upset. ``I don't think anybody is against Jim Hart himself,'' said volleyball coach Debbie Hunter. ``It's just how he slid into the profession without having any background, without paying the dues.''

As a practical matter, though, Hart does have one thing West lacks - a famous name that could help in fund raising. ``You can learn administration,'' said SIU president John C. Guyon, who picked Hart following the work of an 11-member screening committee. ``But you either have name recognition or you don't.''

Judy Auld, the women's tennis coach, was one of four women on the committee. ``Being on the committee really opened up my eyes to the politics and sexism that goes on,'' she said. ``The boosters, non-university people behind the scenes, were the ones making the choice.''

Heading the behind-the-scenes maneuvering was Dean Stuck, a longtime SIU administrator who first approached Hart about the job. Stuck said he is pro-women, but not pro-West.

``I don't particularly believe she's a competent administrator,'' he said. ``Jim Hart was by far our best candidate. And I don't see why SIU has to be criticized because we didn't break away from the norm.''

Rick Rhoades, the school's new football coach, was hired several months ago by West, who says several of the ``old boys in town almost died'' when they learned a woman was going to pick the football coach.

``I'm a Charlotte West person, she's been great to me,'' Rhoades said. ``If this had been a situation where everyone was winning, where there was enough money ... Dr. West probably would have been the AD.''

Hart does not seem to be the issue. He just got in the way. He is a personable man who is something of a folk hero in this rural, southern part of the state. And he might bring stability to an athletic program that now has its sixth director or acting director since 1981.

But West is certain that if she were a man, she would have the job. ``There wouldn't have been a search,'' said West, who is a member of the prestigious NCAA Council and was the first woman member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. She is also past president of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

At SIU, she has created one of the best women's programs in the Midwest, one that has recently been more successful than the men's program.

Carbondale is situated in a rabid basketball region that stretches into Indiana and Kentucky, yet the men's basketball team has had only one winning season in the last nine - and not much glory since Walt Frazier left in the mid-1960s. The football team won the I-AA national title in 1983 but has had four losing seasons since then.

``In every sense of the word, Charlotte West is a leader,'' said Patty Viverito, the commissioner of the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Gateway is primarly a women's conference, though it does have a football division that includes SIU. Viverito, as the only woman in the country running a conference that sponsors men's sports, has had a chance to watch West work.

``You ask the six men who are athletic directors at our other schools about Charlotte West,'' she says, ``and you'll get six unqualified votes of confidence. This is pure gender discrimination.''

A day after the selection, SIU sociology professor Kathryn Ward helped establish a legal defense fund for women employees at SIU. West does not intend to use it. If she gets a ``meaningful role'' in Hart's administration, she'll stay, though she'll continue to speak out.

``The atmosphere on the SIU campus for women is oppressive,'' she said. ``We have a very, very chilling atmosphere ... in regard to women. The university should be showing the way, but that's not the case.''

West said she knew a lot of qualified men who didn't apply for the AD job to give her a better chance, adding that ``many people, men and women, wanted to see a breakthrough down here.

``I've been asked by some powerful Division I schools to be a candidate for AD,'' she said. ``They want a woman in the final pool. Maybe that's progress. But there's not one chance in 10,000 they're going to select a woman.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Gender crossfire over sports job. EXPERIENCE VS. STARDOM
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today