In the wake of Title IX
By SARAH RYKOWSKI
To the casual observer, Title IX is an advantage to girls' schools across the country. A look at how it affects Saint Mary's will show otherwise.
"[Title IX has spurred] a really amazing growth for women athletes in a
coeducational environments," Saint Mary's athletic director Lynn
Kachmarik said. "When you have the mens' programs to compare to it's
black and white. In many ways [Saint Mary's] has been left behind."
As a single-sex institution of higher learning, Saint Mary's is actually not affected by Title IX, which passed in 1972.
Exception 6 to the rule states that the legislation "does not apply to any public institutions of undergraduate higher learning that traditionally from its establishment has had a policy of admitting only students of one sex."
"All schools have to file with the NCAA [for Title IX], but we don't have to file,"
Kachmarik said. "We aren't held up to other schools for comparison. When we don't have that, who's looking at us? No one."
But a lack of evaluation does mean that Saint Mary's and other single-sex institutions can lack the progress that co-ed institutions may have mades since Title IX. Because no authoritative body is looking over their shoulder, athletes at single-sex institutions may not experience the benefits Title IX has brought to women's athletics across the country.
"The best way I can describe it is Saint Mary's and other womens' colleges have been left behind what is going on across the country."
There has been rapid growth in the last five years as schools nationwide rushed to meet the compliance requirements of Title IX. The mandate states that "No person in the United States, shall, on the basic of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." The landmark decision set the conditions for funding and treatment of women's athletic programs in higher education.
It also served as a wake-up call for many institutions that were not in the practice of treating women's athletic programs equally.
"When the NCAA instituted a gender equity policy, a lot of schools weren't in compliance," Kachmarik said. "A lot of schools cared, but you didn't see compliance. In the last five years, colleges across the country have moved to embrace women's sports. It's so easy when you have that equity."
Adding up the numbers
Before taking over as Saint Mary's athletic director two years ago,
Kachmarik was involved in a task force at Bucknell University, where she
helped define what that institution needed to do to meet the equity requirements. What she found was that women walked a fine line between their desire to particpate in athletics, while also being hesitant to take away from the current men's athletic programs.
"Its very tough," Kachmarik said. "No woman wants to take away from the men, just get the same advantages for women, but there are no financial resources for that."
When she arrived at Saint Mary's, Kachmarik knew her work was cut out
for her to bring Saint Mary's up to the standards that are currently in place at co-ed instutitions.
"It took me a year to get on board about where Saint Mary's was," she
said. "We weren't in the MIAA then. Our status has really changed [with joining the MIAA]."
Still, the road has been hard.
Although the administration has been willing to help Saint Mary's athletics improve to the point where they are competitive with other MIAA programs, there are limits to what they can do. With the budget being pulled in several different directions, not all funding can be poured into athletics.
"It takes time to get us there," Kachmarik said. "The financial ramifications of that must be considered. Part of me says we should be at the forefront. It's great to say all this, but the financial ramifications are horrific."
In the meantime, the athletic department has found ways to work with a limited budget. Part of that effort was the development of a cheerleading squad, a new addition to the club sports program that Saint Mary's offers. Due to overwhelming support for the cheerleaders, a dance squad was also formed. But while both of these programs provide alleys for Saint Mary's women to expand their athletic participation, they do not come without cost.
And they leave Kachmarik struggling with the budget issue, even with low-cost programs.
"We have a cheerleading squad," Kachmarik said.."But we need money for
that. And a week later, we have a dance squad. Do we have the financial resources to do [that]? [We don't,] but I can't say no."
The challenge of balancing new activities with existing varsity athletics also exists.
"At some time we need to take care of our teams that we have," Kachmarik
said. "Before I support another team, we need to support the ones we
have, with coaches, assistant coaches, and facilities. Until we get full-
time sports staff we won't be as competitive. The way things happened
before istn't going to be good enough."
The presence of the coach
Steps have been made — although small ones — to employ a full-time sports staff. Gretchen Hildebrandt, hired last year to coach women's swimming, also serves as the assistant athletic director. Suzanne Smith, sports information director and head women's basketball coach, will be the second full time coach to work in the department. Smith was hired this fall.
Kachmarik wants to extend that opportunity to the other athletic teams as well, but steps must be incremental. The timing, however, is critical. Saint Mary's has suffered in their position in the MIAA because of a lack of full-time coaches.
A study conducted by Kachmarik last year for the administration reported that Saint Mary's is not in accordance with the MIAA because of the lack of full-time coaches, placing last among member schools for full-time coaching staffs.
The effects of full-time coaches are not lost on the athletes, who enjoy having the connection with their coaches on campus. Julie Norman, co-captian of women's basketball at Saint Mary's, has played under both part-time coaches and new full-time coach Smith.
"So far its been great," said Julie Norman, senior co-captain of women's basketball. "You can tell she's very committed to the program. Its great to have her around. She's always there to work for us. She is always willing to help us with everything."
The influence of having Smith on campus will hopefully turn around the Belles' 3-13 record in 1999. Norman, who led her team last season with 10 points and 2.1 steals per game,a lready sees a big difference in the team under Smith's direction.
"It is significantly different this year," Norman said. "[Smith] is absolutely committed to bringing us to the next level. This is her life right now."
But she does see how Saint Mary's is behind other colleges and universities in athletics.
"Definitely we have lacked in a lot of things that conference schools have because of Title IX," Norman said. "Its hard to bring in good athletes because you don't have the same advantages to offer them that other schools have."
According to Norman, the budget is the principal problem.
"Saint Mary's has a lot to offer but [other schools'] budgets are so much bigger. It's because we don't have the benefits of Title IX. It's not all bad but it is very different because all these institutions have so much more than we do."
While Kachmarik is committed to attending to the needs of the existing
teams, it concerns her that Saint Mary's cannot provide more athletic
opportunties for the students.
"That worries me because I don't want to give this message and not be
able to give equal opportunities for our women now," Kachmarik said.
Competing away from home
While Saint Mary's athletic teams continute to improve in the MIAA, improvement can be difficult without facilites of their own. Swimmers currently practice across the street at Rolfs Aquatic Center and golfers are off-location at a golf course in Michigan. The track team cannot compete on campus due to a lack of facilities.
"If we want to compete with other all-women's institutions across the country, we have work to do. It's about my student-athletes getting in here and fighting for what we want. It's about providing those opportunities from top to bottom. The hardest part about it is that I want it done yesterday."
While the swim team has the advantage of a full-time coach in Hildebrandt, being forced off-campus to compete and practice takes it toll on the team.
The team has been able to overcome the lack of adequate facilities more easily than some other Saint Mary's programs, however, by using Notre Dame's pools.
Notre Dame's facility does allow some athletic events to come close to home for Saint Mary's swimmers, serving as the host facility for the MIAA Championships last February. It was the first time in school history a Championship had been hosted by Saint Mary's — even though the pool is not technically their own facility.
"If we did have our own pool it would be a huge advantage," Colleen Sullivan, co-captain of the swim team, said. "We would probably have our own pool if we were co-ed. But we are lucky to be able to swim at ND."
Still, Sullivan feels like an outsider when she goes over to Notre Dame to practice and to compete.
"It feels like we're in someone else's place," Sullivan said. "Still, we really appreciate our time in the pool at ND. If we had our own we could have more morning practices, but we swim just as much as everybody else. I don't think we are at much of a disadvantage."
The fact remains, however, that were it not for Notre Dame's generosity,
Saint Mary's swimmers would be without a place to practice. Sullivan considers it to be one of the best facilities they have the opportunity to compete in, because of Notre Dame's Division I status.
She also appreciates the quality and coaching ability of her new coach.
"She's definitely stepped up the program," Sullivan said of Hildebrandt.
"It's already very different. I was on the team my freshman year, and
then abroad my sophomore year, and I saw the difference last year. How
well we are doing is a credit to [Hildebrandt]. She is there for us all the time. We have totally improved since she got here."
"The thing that hard for me is the student athletes who can't compete
here becaue we don't have the facilities for them," Kachmarik said.
But even facing adversity, Saint Mary's makes their improvements with pride and continues to look towards the future.
"All of this [improvement] is only going to enhance the admissions quality of
Saint Mary's to prospective students. It will also increase endowment
and alumni opportunities."
All News Stories for Monday, October 9, 2000