A FEW weeks back, the Seattle Times's sports page was dominated by the headline ``UW takes charge.'' The University of Washington women had won a key basketball game against the University of Southern California. Adjacent to the story on the same page was a smaller headline: ``Another win for UW men,'' also against USC.
Huskies fans, with a nationally known football team that dominates the men's sports program, pay roughly equal attention to their men's and women's basketball squads. Attendance at home games averages around 5,000 for both teams. (In this example from February, the men played in Los Angeles, while the women's 63-55 win occurred before a raucous home crowd of more than 7,000.)
USC, by contrast, has a basketball program embroiled in controversy over gender equity.
Last year, the Trojan women's highly rated coach, Marianne Stanley, lost her job when she held out for a long-term contract moving toward pay equality with men's coach George Raveling. The resulting lawsuit, which so far has gone against Ms. Stanley, has become a high-profile test case on the issue of ``equal pay for equal work'' in collegiate coaching.
``If there is a single case that represents the panoply of issues'' involved in the federal mandate for gender equity in colleges that receive federal money, ``this is it,'' says Robert Bell, Ms. Stanley's attorney.
The mandate, known as Title IX, was included in the Education Amendments passed by the United States Congress in 1972. More than 20 years later, Mr. Bell says most universities still have a long way to go to be in compliance. After losing a judgment in San Francisco's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he is seeking an injunction from the US Supreme Court that would reinstate Stanley while the case is heard.
Coaches' salaries are just one issue of gender equity. Others include whether women on a campus have comparable participation in sports, sports-team budgets, scholarships, and team promotions to men.
Then there's the question of where revenues figure in all this.
Much of the wide gap in spending between men's and women's sports stems from disproportionate spending on men's football programs. But for the University of Washington and other big schools, football is a moneymaker that can be used to subsidize other sports programs for men and women.
A 1992 task force on gender equity for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said that ``maintaining current revenue-producing programs as one aspect of long-range planning for increasing women's opportunities is preferable to decreasing the ... opportunities for men.''
Ticket sales are a central issue in the case of Marianne Stanley.
USC argues that since the men's team draws more fans and generates 90 percent more revenue than the women do, Mr. Raveling's job entails substantially more pressure than Stanley's. Bell alleges that the school is failing to adequately promote the women's sport; the men have a poster advertising their schedule, for example, while the women do not. Moreover, Stanley's record as a coach is more successful than Raveling's.
While not wanting to comment specifically on the Stanley case, UW athletic director Barbara Hedges rejects the argument that higher revenues should lead to a higher salary for the men's coach. ``I couldn't possibly justify a [salary] difference'' on that basis, she says.
The Huskies coaches' salaries still have a way to go toward full equity, Ms. Hedges says. Women's basketball coach Chris Gobrecht was given a substantial salary raise, and her contract was extended from three years to four - the same length as men's coach Bob Bender. When a current salary freeze lifts, Hedges says Ms. Gobrecht will be moved to an equal base-salary scale as Bender.
``There is a greater desire and willingness to face the gender-equity issue now'' in American universities, says Hedges, who is one of the only women to head a big-university sports program. She says the university, prodded by a state law as well as the federal mandate, is ``certainly moving in the right direction.''
Bell agrees that the University of Washington ``has just made some positive strides.'' He points to other schools as leaders: Stanford University and the Universities of Tennessee and Virginia pay basketball coaches equally.
Yet unequal treatment of women is ``in just about all the institutions in one form or another,'' says Bell, who is based in Washington, D.C. He says momentum is building in court cases for the legal record to ``catch up'' to the implications of Title IX.
A key case he successfully litigated last year was Tyler v. Howard University (in Washington, D.C.), in which women's coach Sanya Tyler won damages of $1.1 million on the issue of equal pay for equal work.
MARTIN GREENBERG, a director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University in Milwaukee, says the Tyler case is causing attorneys like himself to ask a new question when they represent a coach of a women's team in contract talks: ``How does your pay compare to the pay of a men's coach, and how are your duties either similar or different?''
In the Stanley case, USC contends that the two jobs have very different duties, while Bell says their basic duties are essentially the same. How can the women attract similar revenues, he asks, when they play most home games in ``a little gym on campus ... used for intramural sports?''
The NCAA task force, made up of nine women and seven men, said gender equity must include both quantity and quality of women's sports participation.
Rigid quotas are not needed, the task force said, but efforts for equal treatment should extend to areas such as per-diem allowances for players when teams travel, scheduling of games, and facilities.
The report noted that participation rates of boys and girls in high school sports are divergent, which means more effort may be needed at that level to pave the way for equal sports participation in higher education.
Hedges points proudly to the UW's progress in boosting women's participation rates to 44 percent of total athletes on campus.
The push for gender equity, meanwhile, has raised some tensions among minorities who worry that their access to scholarships is diminishing as a result. The NCAA recently cut the number of men's basketball scholarships for each team to 13, two fewer than women now get, a move that falls heavily on black male athletes.