Title IX benefits women's sports
By TIM LOGAN
While the eyes of Notre Dame fans nationwide will be on Saturday's football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., a contest tonight right here in South Bend may very well provide an equally important perspective on Irish athletics.
When the women's soccer team takes the field against North Carolina, it will write another chapter in one of the fiercest rivalries in college sports, and take another step in the ascent of women's athletics at Notre Dame.
Over the past 10 years, Notre Dame has become a major player in the world of women's intercollegiate athletics. Soccer, basketball and volleyball have climbed to levels of national prominence, and with the recent additions of women's rowing and lacrosse, the University is nearing gender equity in scholarships and funding. All of this has combined to create a sense of pride in women's sports at Notre Dame.
"I think when I first got here , quality women's athletics was more of a dream instead of a reality," said Chris Petrucelli, who coached women's soccer from 1990 to 1998. "When I left it was a reality. Almost every team was competing on a national level."
From better facilities to more equal practice schedules, there are a number of factors to which coaches attribute the improvement. One important one is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans gender discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.
However, the fundamental reason, many say, lies in a basic commitment at Notre Dame to developing and funding women's programs beyond the bare requirements of Title IX.
"I'm really pleased with the way Notre Dame has treated us and rewarded us for our success," said Muffett McGraw, head women's basketball coach. "I don't think you can be successful without support from the administration."
That support has largely come in the form of dramatic financial aid and budgetary funding increases. In 1987, Notre Dame gave out 27 full scholarships for women's sports. This year the University gave 93. In 12 years, the University has also added six women's sports, including the soccer program, which has become a national powerhouse.
These gains, however, have come at a price.
In 1992, after 37 years of competition, the wrestling program was disbanded. Dick Rosenthal, Athletic Director at the time, said the decision was made because of the University's continuing reassessment and realignment of its athletic programs. The sport's funding and 13 scholarships were given towards women's teams and its coach of eight years, Frann McCann, was given a job teaching physical education at Notre Dame.
"It wasn't a happy situation," McCann said earlier this week. "It was a difficult time."
Nor were administrators pleased about dropping wrestling. Associate director of Athletics Missy Conboy was involved in the decision and said she wishes the move had not been necessary.
"It was a hard choice," she said. "After we did it, we said we didn't want to do this again. If we can, let's not do this again."
Existing men's sports are hamstrung by gender equity efforts in other ways, too. The 85 scholarships devoted to the football team each year make it difficult for Notre Dame to achieve balance between men's and women's teams, so men's Olympic sports (all but football and basketball) suffer, Conboy said. The men's lacrosse team has no scholarships, while men's swimming receives one. These numbers are lower than many of their competitors', especially those without Division I football programs.
At present, Title IX does not require a school to have a male-to-female ratio in athletics equal to that in its overall student body, but simply that the school be consistently moving towards that equality, according to Conboy. While Notre Dame did not admit women until 1972, 45 percent of its student body is female
Notre Dame — where 45 percent of students are female but only 33 percent of whom played varsity sports in 1997-98— did not admit women until 1972 . The University has started women's rowing and lacrosse teams in the last three years and plans to add 28 scholarships for women by 2005. Thus far, it has met the criteria for consistent improvement. While there are no plans at present for new women's sports, administrators will continue to increase female participation in the current ones.
"At this point, we're not sure we need to add any sports," Conboy said. "We could get to 45 percent with the sports we have."
Other Title IX stipulations include equality in facilities, coaching and equipment, which the University has worked towards over the past decade, Conboy said. This effort has been aided by general physical plant improvements such as the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center, Loftus Sports Center, Eck Tennis Pavilion and the expansion of Notre Dame Stadium, with its enlarged training room.
These scholarships and facilities, and the commitment to women's athletics they demonstrate, also help lure top high schoolers to Notre Dame, coaches say.
"Recruits now see us as big time," McGraw said. "Before they didn't really see us that way."
Volleyball coach Debbie Brown agrees, noting that the ability to offer recruits a scholarship makes a big difference in the quality of players a program can attract.
"The teams that are fully funded with scholarships are the teams that are at the top," she said.
Fully funded women's programs include soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis and softball.
Not all the women's programs have the NCAA maximum in scholarships to give out, but they still contribute to Notre Dame's gender equity efforts. The women's rowing team, which achieved varsity status last season, had 60 members in the spring, but currently has no scholarships. Women's rowing has been a popular sport in recent years among universities with large football programs that are trying to comply with Title IX, according to head coach Martin Stone. This boom provides opportunities for non-recruits to compete at an intercollegiate level, too.
"We only recruit four or five people a year, but we consider about 50 freshmen for the team," he said. "It allows people who come to Notre Dame to get involved in athletics. I think it gets back to the essence of collegiate athletics."
Ultimately, greater opportunities for women to take part in the tradition of collegiate athletics are the end result of gender equity efforts and Title IX legislation, and today's stars express their appreciation for that.
"Title IX is one thing that has really helped [women's athletics]," said LaKeysia Beene, captain of the women's soccer team. "It definitely has been better than in the past. Our parents never got a chance to play."
All News Stories for Friday, September 3, 1999