Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, an incorrect version of the story below was printed. This is the correct version.
The minutes wound down as the Michigan’s varsity women’s basketball team clawed its way to the finish against Louisville. With just five points separating the two teams, every moment was critical.
But unfortunately for this pack of pioneering women, the clock wasn’t winding quite fast enough.
This game in early December of 1977 was the first of a doubleheader at Crisler Arena, in which the men’s team was to take the floor when its female counterpart was done. The experiment, meant to drum up support for the women’s squad, did just that, but not in the way those who planned the event had originally hoped.
With approximately 8:38 remaining in the contest, athletic administrators realized that the televised men’s game could not start on time if the women continued at their current pace, and they told the referees to speed the game up. Five minutes later, faced with a potential breach of a lucrative television contract, they did what anyone steeped in the then-male-dominated tradition of Michigan athletics would have done.
They ran the clock.
Despite the fact that both teams made substitutions, took free throws and swatted the ball out of bounds, the seconds ticked by without a single pause. The men’s warm up began punctually, and those in charge sheepishly changed their policy regarding doubleheaders.
“It was apparent to everyone that this was not a good thing,” said Sheryl Szady, a former athlete who wrote her dissertation on women’s athletics at Michigan. “After that, women’s games always followed the men’s, and they’re usually at least three hours apart.”
This episode transpired just before Michigan fully instituted Title IX, an education amendment that requires gender equality in academic institutions that receive government funding. But the revolution – which has allowed today’s female Wolverines equal scholarship opportunities and equal access to practice facilities, uniforms and equipment that are undoubtedly as high-quality as the men’s – hardly occurred as soon as the law was passed.
Deconstructing Title IX
Title IX was initially passed in 1972, and most aspects of the legislation – including equality in college admissions and hiring – were put into practice without a great deal of protest. There are several components of Title IX. It addresses issues of sexual harassment, equality in math and the sciences, career education, access to higher education, education for pregnant and parenting students, learning environment, standardized testing and technology.
But it was the bit calling for equal spending on athletic benefits, opportunities and particularly scholarships that had athletic directors around the nation begging their senators and representatives to take a stand against what they believed to be a ruinous stipulation.
Famed former Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham believed that the financial implications of Title IX would be dire.
“If we end up finally with what is being proposed,” he wrote, “I do not see how intercollegiate athletics or any form of a scholarship program can continue as we know it.”
Title IX has come under more than 20 legal attacks in its 33-year history. The most recent, and perhaps most significant, occurred early this year, when the Department of Education issued an “additional clarification” regarding its criteria for schools’ compliance with Title IX. As it previously stood, the law had a three-pronged test to see if the university was fulfilling its participation requirement. The first prong states that the institution must have athletic opportunities for women and men that are “substantially proportionate to its full-time student enrollment.” The second part of the test requires “a history and continuing practice of program expansion” for the underrepresented sex. The third prong is that the university must fully and effectively accommodate the “interest and abilities” of the underrepresented sex.
The loophole that the department created stated that an institution could create a survey to gauge the interest and abilities of the underrepresented sex at the institution and then dole out scholarships based on the results.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the problem with the survey method is that it “fails to provide a valid measure of women’s interest in sports and instead institutionalizes the very discrimination that is and has been the basis for women’s lack of opportunity to participate in sports.”
This change had the support of President Bush, who was critical of the “system of quotas” involved in Title IX. Furthermore, the survey could be administered via e-mail.
Those who support Title IX were furious at the suggestion, and quickly mobilized to quash the clarification before it took effect.
“It’s disconcerting,” USA Today columnist and Title IX advocate Christine Brennan said. “I don’t know why they tried to do it. The good thing is that no one has ever heard of anyone actually trying to use it. Myles Brand, the president of the NCAA, told universities not to use it.”
Currently, the law remains intact and quite similar to its original wording, which has been controversial from its nascence.
The cast of characters in the story of Title IX is replete with Michigan connections, with the lead role played by former President Ford, a Michigan alum and former Wolverine football player. The supporting cast included such pillars of University athletic tradition as Canham, and renowned football coach Bo Schembechler.
President Nixon signed the bill putting Title IX into effect in 1972, but Ford signed the 1975 version – which added specific compliance criteria. All schools were given until July 1978 to create an equal varsity athletics program for women. Several schools in the Big Ten – including Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State – managed to put their respective programs into place well before the deadline. In contrast, the athletic department at Michigan waited until the date was mere months away.
It was no accident that Michigan was one of the last institutions to comply with Title IX. Canham, who was a maverick in supporting black students’ participation in sports, was wholeheartedly opposed to providing significant, let alone equal, funding for women’s athletics. These reasons were primarily financial, and he said that from a monetary perspective Title IX would be “an absolute disaster for both men and women’s intercollegiate athletics.” He knew that women’s sports would probably not bring in enough money even to support themselves.
During this era, Saturdays at the Big House were nowhere near the cash cow they are today. To the contrary, plenty of empty seats could be found at games. This fact made Canham’s concerns even more urgent and his views less flexible.
Some hypothesize that another reason Michigan was slow to support Title IX was that its tradition of men’s sports was already deeper, richer and more extensive than at its Big Ten counterparts.
“The programs that were the quickest to succeed were the ones that had the worst men’s teams – Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota,” former women’s swimming coach Stu Isaac said.
It should be noted that women’s sports at Michigan existed long before the law forced them to be implemented. They were housed under the Department of Physical Education. They first functioned similarly to intramural teams, but by the late 1960s, they competed against other schools, though at a disadvantage, because many other institutions had women’s varsity teams.
Canham made numerous trips to Washington to “talk some sense” into Ford. Schembechler traveled there at least once. But despite his appeals to the president as a former athlete on a men’s squad, Ford was resolute.
“Not applying Title IX to collegiate athletics would not be consistent with the law Congress passed,” Ford said in a written statement. “If congressional hearings suggest better approaches to achieving equal opportunity in athletic programs, I would support perfecting the legislation.”
But no one came up with a superior plan, and women’s varsity sports were officially launched – theoretically.
Back in Ann Arbor
But women at the University and around the country knew that the quest for equal scholarships would not immediately lead to equal support and opportunity. While Canham was trying desperately to minimize Title IX’s impact on the cost of running a university athletic department, the Wolverines were striving to prove themselves worthy of varsity status.
“The Athletic Department was doing what it needed to do,” said Isaac, Michigan’s first women’s swimming coach under Title IX. “But I didn’t sense a passion that there was a pride in what they were doing.”
In 1974 – the first year that women’s collegiate nationals were held for swimming and diving – the team had to pile into vans and drive to Idaho in order to compete. They were forced to miss about a week of school and received just five dollars per day for food.
The team wound up finishing in the top 20 nationally, but had to go to great lengths to make it from meet to meet throughout the season.
“I remember walking around outside the football stadium selling apples to pay for the gas so that we could get to our next meet,” former swimmer Robin Orr said. “It was pitiful. And then we ran out of gas. There was just no funding.”
Even remaining in Ann Arbor presented its own set of obstacles. The women’s swimming team originally held practices in a pool housed in the basement of the Michigan Union. After some time, Isaac and men’s swimming coach Gus Stager arranged for the women’s team to have a bit of practice time in the pool at Canham Natatorium.
“We got the pool from 3 to 5 a.m.,” Orr said. “So we got up at two. My roommate freshman year was scared of me because I was always creeping in and out of the room at such weird hours.”
Outside on the track, the situation was somewhat similar. Ken “Red” Simmons had retired from coaching the nonvarsity version of the Michigan women’s track team when he received a phone call in 1974 that would bring him back to the University for an eight-year encore.
“My wife, Lois, and I did all the scouting ourselves,” Simmons said. “There was no money, so we went to the dorms and asked if anyone had run in high school. Once we fielded a team, my wife, the girls and their parents got together and bought material to make their uniforms. Then, they went to Kmart to buy the shoes.”
Simmons’s team was not yet recognized in the Big Ten, but he wanted to take it to Wisconsin to witness the Big Ten Championships – and see where their program could go.
“There was a parade (in Madison), and we saw all the girls in their beautiful uniforms,” Simmons said. “And there we were with our sewn-on M’s. My wife had tears in her eyes.
“But, four years later, we returned to the same venue and won the Big Ten.”
Indeed, the years from 1973 to 1976 were significant ones for women’s athletics at Michigan.
“By 1976, we had paid coaches, full locker rooms, real practices and they paid our way to meets,” said Kathy Knox Hastings, another former swimmer. “By 1977, some of the freshmen were receiving scholarships.”
The issue of coaching salaries was a sensitive topic during that period. For the first few years, most coaches of women’s teams did not receive full-year appointments and were instead given six- or eight-month salaries, with no benefits. This situation forced them to look for work outside the University, which is how Isaac became involved with Speedo, where he is currently vice president of sales and marketing.
“Essentially, we got laid off for the summer,” Isaac said. “So a couple of us applied for unemployment. The athletic department was really embarrassed, and we were full-time employees the following year.”
The implementation of Title IX also hit close to home with some men who were highly involved with men’s sports at Michigan – actually, it hit at home. Orr and her sister, Jenny Orr Davis, were the daughters of Johnny Orr, the men’s basketball coach at the time. Swimming and basketball were two of the six original women’s varsity sports at Michigan. The others were tennis, field hockey, volleyball and synchronized swimming.
“In our family, there were four women and one man,” Orr Davis said. “There were a lot of hot issues. (My father) was always an advocate, and all four of us were very competitive.”
Orr Davis appreciated her father’s willingness to allow her to participate in sports, particularly when she saw other women who were quite athletically talented have their careers cut short by overbearing parents.
“A lot of my friends’ dads, when they turned 16, would say, ‘You’re done.’ “
It’s true that Orr never put any restrictions on his daughters, but he was not necessarily supportive of women’s varsity sports in his position as coach. It was Orr who was coaching on that December night when the women’s game was cut short.
“His job was to coach basketball, not to be a booster for women’s sports,” Orr Davis said. “I think there’s a dissonance that occurs in politics, and it also happened in my dad’s case. You might want something, but how do you run a department like that? But really, his responsibility was basketball.”
By 1978, Title IX was in full swing at Michigan. The scholarship spending for the 1977-78 school year allotted $240,000 to male athletes and $142,700 to the women. Complete equality was becoming increasingly attainable.
“They were exciting times to be a part of,” Davis Orr said. “It was satisfying. In hindsight, we knew we didn’t have this or that, but we worked to make things happen.”
Today’s Title IX
Clearly Canham’s dismal, doomsday prophesy that the legislation would effectively kill college sports has not come to fruition, and athletics managed to survive past that first year. Indeed, at Michigan they appear to be thriving.
Thirteen of the 25 varsity sports at the University are women’s, and scholarship opportunities are both equal and plentiful – both men and women have the maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA.
“At Michigan, they’ve definitely been fair with all their sports,” women’s water polo coach Matt Anderson said. “I don’t feel that we’re at a disadvantage at all.”
This seems to be the consensus across women’s programs at the University.
“There are so many more opportunities now,” assistant field hockey coach Tracy Fuchs said. “Now you can see through Title IX, how much more respect women’s teams are getting than they got 20 years ago.”
But Title IX has never been as cut and dry as simply creating a numerical balance between the genders.
Currently, the major criticism of the legislation is that it has taken opportunities away from men’s sports – particularly the Olympic, or nonrevenue programs. Those in the world of men’s swimming, wrestling and gymnastics are crying foul as they watch programs get sliced out of the athletic picture at several institutions. And they see Title IX as the culprit. The Big Ten has witnessed the losses of Michigan State’s men’s gymnastics team and Illinois’s men’s swimming team.
But their accusations are only partially true.
Title IX does require equal scholarship opportunities, but its stipulations regarding how these scholarships are distributed across men and women’s sports are vague. Thus, most schools tend to give a huge number of scholarships to their football programs, which puts an enormous dent in the number of scholarships that can be dispersed throughout the rest of the men’s program. Meanwhile, there is no women’s equivalent to football, and though sports such as rowing tend to eat up a large number of scholarships, this quantity is nowhere near what football demands.
Because of the large number of scholarships that go to football players, for sports that have both men and women’s teams – cross country, for example – the men’s equivalent often receives fewer scholarships.
“It seems that the men’s team is very aware of the fact that we get more scholarships than them,” cross country redshirt junior Jessie Stewart said. “It’s bad form among athletes to really discuss scholarships, but sometimes it comes up.”
The decrease in nonrevenue men’s sports scholarships hits those who participate in them on many levels. The most obvious of these is the relative dearth of opportunities for men who have grown up playing these sports continuing them at the collegiate level, especially in Divisions II and III.
“I think it’s an unintended consequence,” wrestling coach Joe McFarland said. “No one wanted to see men’s teams get cut. I believe the opportunities should be equal for both men’s and women’s programs. I think athletic departments need to stop taking the easy way out – start making adjustments and stop simply cutting sports.”
McFarland supports Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin’s commitment to maintaining all the programs that were in existence when he took office in March 2000. Martin’s strong stance on this issue not only springs from his respect for both men and women’s sports, but also from looking at collegiate athletics through the lens of the Olympics.
As former president of the United States Olympic Committee, Martin believes that cutting programs such as wrestling and gymnastics hurts the nation’s medal count.
“Eighty percent of Olympic athletes come through collegiate programs,” Martin said. “And these programs that have shrunk are important to us as a country.”
In response to this trend, the NCAA and the USOC have created a joint committee that has made numerous recommendations to ameliorate the situation. Some of these recommendations include increasing the resources available to support at-risk sports – all but two of which are men’s – building awareness and commitment, identifying preferred strategies for controlling costs, increasing their marketability, aligning the NCAA’s rules to support the mission and setting goals to measure progress.
In order to generate more public interest in these sports, the USOC/NCAA taskforce suggests “lessening restrictions on training time for athletes who have achieved a certain high standard of academic performance,” relaxing rules of amateurism so that athletes who have earned money through sponsorship might still be able to compete and “facilitating the underwriting of athletic scholarships by third parties including, but not limited to the USOC or national governing bodies.”
But the most common proposal to alter Title IX is to remove football from the equation.
“When you add football – well, football’s sort of a different cat,” McFarland said. “I think taking football out could make sense.”
The solution seems simple enough and – at Michigan, where football pays for the bulk of the athletic program, and where the athletic director is a proponent of sports for all – it might even be feasible. But Title IX is a national law, and Michigan is an anomaly in terms of the way it operates because it’s financially in the black.
“Only one in six football programs even pay for themselves, let alone other sports,” Brennan said. “You can’t have a different law for Michigan and Eastern Michigan. Colleges are not football factories, and so they must provide equal opportunities.”
The issue truly boils down to one point, which Brennan has made frequently and famously:
“We don’t have three genders – men, women and football players,” Brennan said. “There are just two.”
While Title IX’s shape has the potential to morph considerably, most agree that it is too ingrained in American society to lose its identity or to cease serving its original purpose.
Sports are an indelible component of culture, which is why people are so passionate in their response to the legislation. Be it positive or negative, one thing is certain – they just want a chance to get on the field, in the pool or on the court.
To Orr Davis, for whom sports are not just a hobby, but a history and a lifestyle, it is inconceivable that anyone might support exclusion.
“If you believe in sports, you have to believe in sports for everyone,” she said.
And in a day when before his death Canham attended a women’s gymnastics meet with his granddaughter, the softball and field hockey squads have brought home Michigan’s two most recent team national championships and nationally new wrestling programs are creeping up to replace those that have been cut, it seems people are catching on.
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