EDITOR'S NOTE: Northwestern softball rising senior Kristin Scharkey submitted this piece as her final project in a spring quarter Medill School of Journalism course. We publish it here on her independent NUsports.com blog, Schark Bytes, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
Anna Cassell is dressed in all black, accentuating the paleness of legs that have been hidden under shin guards for most of her life. She works diligently on the Northwestern University turf field with two other goalkeepers on the Wildcats' women's soccer team; juggling and taking rep after rep of shots on goal. The blonde-haired freshman started playing soccer when she was four-years-old, and she hasn't stopped since.
"I'm on a scholarship here, and the fact that I can play the sport I love and pay for my college [tuition] that way is really lucky," Cassell says.
I catch this bit of Cassell's practice before heading over to my own on the neighboring field. Our two teams often practice side-by-side on our respective fields like this in the spring, and I can't help but wonder if the opportunity we have is really luck like Cassell says.
This past weekend on June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that paved the way for thousands of female athletes to have the opportunity to play college sports. Today more than 190,000 female athletes compete at the Division I level, according to data released by the NCAA in 2011. At the birth of Title IX, only one in 25 girls played sports. Now, it is one in three. Perhaps it has not been luck but the work of generations of women who have fought for equality in collegiate athletics.
"It's the most important law in our country over the past 40 years," says USA Today columnist and award-winning journalist Christine Brennan. "To think for generations, we were not allowing 51 percent of our population to learn about winning and losing at a young age, to learn about teamwork, to learn about sportsmanship? Whatever a little girl is going to be when she grows up -- a mother, doctor, lawyer, professor, journalist, coach -- she's going to be better at it because she played sports."
Although the 191,131 women participating in collegiate athletics is six times the amount pre-Title IX, it still leaves female student-athletes well behind their 252,946 male counterparts, according to data released by the NCAA in 2011. Title IX requires compliance based on the proportionality of males and females in the general student body to the number of male and female athlete participation slots; however, at the typical Division I school, women make up 51 percent of undergraduate enrollment but only 45 percent of the athletes, according to the National Women's Law Center.
"Schools are unwilling to add more opportunities for women. Instead they're funneling all their money into football and men's basketball to participate in the arm's race," argues Sports Management Resources President Donna Lopiano. 'It's slowing and stopping the growth of opportunities for women."
The Women's Sports Foundation estimates that 80-90 percent of all educational institutions are not in compliance with Title IX in relation to athletics. On its 40th anniversary, there is reason to celebrate how far women have come, but it begs the question of how far we have yet to go.
"You Don't Matter"
In 2004, Jessica Mendoza was a member of the United States' softball team training for the summer Olympics. Along with several other teammates, she had gotten permission from the head softball coach at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Calif., to use their practice facilities for extra batting practice. When the women got to the field, they found a sandlot in the shadows of a $10 million scoreboard beyond left field for the neighboring baseball stadium. They had just begun to take batting practice when campus security came and told the women they had to leave. When Mendoza tried to explain that she and her teammates were training for the Olympics, they just laughed and parked their cart in the middle of the field so that the women couldn't continue their practice.
"It was totally insulting. As a female athlete with the permission of the coach, instead it was like this huge looming stadium throwing in your face, 'You don't matter.' That's what that [baseball] stadium told me," recalls Mendoza. [Editor's Note: In 2006, LMU dedicated the brand new Smith Field to host its softball program.]
A four-time All-American at Stanford University and two-time Olympic medalist, Mendoza was slapped with another scoreboard moment when softball was removed from the Olympics in 2009. She currently plays for the USSSA Pride of National Professional Fastpitch, the professional women's softball league made up of four teams that are struggling financially to stay on their feet. Just one month ago on May 18, its female soccer counterpart folded under financial instability. Whereas male student-athletes have the opportunity to dream about the NBA, NFL, etc., women are not afforded the luxury.
"All of these female athletes that we love and watch, no one supports them once they graduate and really reach their peak. I think that's where the true power of Title IX will be is when these women can actually make a professional living," says Mendoza.
For the majority of female student-athletes, the biggest stage they will play on lies in the collegiate realm. With no viable professional option, those four years in college are the pinnacle of a woman's athletic career. And although female student-athletes been given a much larger platform now that championships such as the NCAA's Women's Final Four and Women's College World Series are broadcast on ESPN, the media coverage is nowhere close to being equitable. Lopiano says 88-95 percent of all sports coverage is male, and a lack of television rights fees and exposure remain barriers for maximum growth. In fact, at the typical Division I university, for every dollar spent on women's sports, over two and a half dollars are spent on men's sports, according to the National Women's Law Center.
"I think some still see women's athletics [as something] for hobbyists," says Sharon J. Drysdale, a former three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year as head coach of Northwestern softball.
"Pieces of the Pie"
Drysdale's grey hair falls around a face worn with age. Circular spectacles hide eyes that are stern but kind; eyes that have seen 40 years of transformation and change. Title IX began with fighters like this woman. In her early playing and coaching years, it was frowned upon if female athletes wanted to work out in "male" weight rooms, and practice facilities were often not available to female athletes until late at night. To travel, they drove in station wagons and ate bologna and cheese sandwiches out of the trunk. Once, on the road, they slept on the wrestling mats at an opposing team's school.
In 1972, when Title IX was passed, Drysdale was the coordinator of women's athletics for the University of Kansas and had a $9,500 budget for all of her women's sports. Sports hadn't even existed for Drysdale in high school, but she felt strongly that the separate and unequal shrug in the direction of women's collegiate sports was unacceptable. So some time later, she went to her head athletic director, a man, and made a simple request: $20,000.
"Had he given us that, I probably would've gone back to my office and been so thankful and things wouldn't have changed. But he said no. He drew a picture of a pie and said there were only so many pieces of the pie and they're all given out," recalls Drysdale.
A short time later, the women's track team filed a major class action lawsuit against the University of Kansas. Not long after that, most women associated with the suit had left the university. For her efforts, just four years into her career, Drysdale was replaced by a new "director" of the women's program. She was kept on to coach women's softball, and to teach in the physical education major program. Her office was moved out by the swimming pool where she had a low-traffic entrance to go in and out.
"Similar things were happening throughout the country," she said. "In the early days of Title IX, the coaches and female administrators who were supporting Title IX and who were pushing for women's athletics were frequently black-balled."
Over the next four decades, Drysdale would be among thousands of like-minded female athletes, coaches and advocates to fight for equality for women in collegiate athletics. Her athletes (and others of all ages) were too-often harped on by others, especially parents who wondered when they would "grow up and get through their tomboy stage." It wasn't "in" to be an athlete at the start of Drysdale's tenure. You had to love sports with all of who you were, and they did.
"Sports are such a cultural, iconic circumstance of American society. It's where we see a lot of social things taking place," says Melissa Ludtke, whose landmark case against Major League Baseball won female sportswriters the right into the locker room. "Sports are a road in for us to look at the change in culture and change in understanding the ways women have shown themselves to be able to compete."
"They've Had 40 Years!"
Critics of Title IX blame the law for instances of men's team reductions, when non-revenue men's Olympic sports are cut in an attempt to be in compliance with Title IX. Meanwhile, football and men's basketball continue to be impregnated with funds when in actuality, just over 50 percent of Division I-FBS football and men's basketball programs generate revenue surpluses that cover their expenses, according to a 2010 NCAA study.
"[This argument] would be a concern if Title IX had showed up last week. I find it a weak argument not based on facts. No one wants to lose men's Olympic sports and it's a sports tragedy when a school has to cut men's golf or wrestling, etc.," says Brennan. "But we should not blame a great law for the mistakes and ineptitude of athletic directors. Athletic directors haven't had one week to prepare for this. They haven't had one year. They haven't had one decade. They've had 40 years!"
Men's teams have, in fact, grown by 46 percent since Title IX. Since 2002, the number of male student-athletes has increased by 38,482, according to data released by the NCAA in 2011. Compliance with Title IX does not require cutting men's teams in order to allow for more opportunities for women. The solution involves increasing athletic budgets and giving each program -- male or female -- a smaller piece of the pie, just as Drysdale originally proposed.
"Not Just Mothers Anymore"
University of Michigan Head Softball Coach Carol Hutchins is one of the most decorated Division I softball coaches in the game. Inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2004, she led the Wolverines to their first softball national championship in 2005 and just this month, completed her 28th season as head coach. But Hutchins is no stranger to the hurdles faced by women in sports. In the first few years of her coaching career, she was her own field maintenance crew. She recalls watering the field, chalking the white lines and filling up buckets of water to drink before every practice or game, all on her own. For a male coach, this would have been unheard of. Even in college as a heralded basketball and softball player at Michigan State University, Hutchins and the rest of her senior class filed a class action lawsuit against MSU for the disparities between the men and women's basketball teams in 1979 and ultimately won. To this day, she says, we still haven't "moved through the evolution" of removing the inequities that Title IX has the power to erase.
"Women still typically make less than men... Also, there are fewer women coaching women. You see more and more men. That is a big problem for this generation," Hutchins says. "Title IX created this system that 50 percent of the population get an equal opportunity, yet women coaches are not getting the same opportunity."
The average school spending for Division I female head coaches was $659,000 in 2006, according to the 2006 NCAA Gender Equity Survey. For male coaches? $1,202,400. Further, the number of women coaching women's teams is down from more than 90 percent in 1972 to 42.9 percent this year, according to a 2012 survey by Brooklyn College Professors Emerita R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter.
"Women need strong role models. Strong role models are not just for men. Women are not just mothers anymore. I think it's important for women to have the opportunity to be in positions of leadership," says Hutchins.
Male athletic directors tend to hire male coaches, says Brennan who is the most widely read female sports columnist in the nation, and she wonders if perhaps the NCAA should instate its own version of the NFL's 'Rooney Rule' that requires candidates for head coaching jobs to include at least one African-American. Why not require schools to interview at least one woman?
"I am a big believer that women should be coaching women," says Brennan, the author of seven books including Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports. "The whole notion here is if you are creating opportunities for girls in women's sports, you hope that some of those girls then have the opportunities [outside of playing] sports. Currently, one of those great opportunities is to be a coach."
From the disparity of female coaches to the instability of professional women's leagues, one thing remains clear. The power of Title IX that has revolutionized female participation in sports for the past 40 years must continue to penetrate all aspects of women's collegiate athletics in order to expand amateur and professional opportunities beyond graduation.
"I'm not sure full equality will ever exist. I'm not sure we need that to exist," says Brennan of the next 40 years. "We want full opportunity, and that will give us as close to equality as we can imagine."
"The Battle Still Rages"
It's a sunny cloudless day on May 16 when my teammates and I load up the bus to head to Austin, Texas, for the regional round of the 2012 Women's College World Series. That weekend, we play four games -- three of which are televised on ESPN's Longhorn Network -- and all in front of crowds of hundreds of people. We stay in hotels -- two to a room -- and eat out at restaurants with the entire team and our all-female coaching staff.
Just two weeks earlier, Drysdale looked me straight in the eyes and told me that a problem with my generation is that we take things for granted. During our stay in Texas, I take it to heart.
"It's incredible how that one little statement [Title IX] that really didn't even have anything to do with athletics at the time... got interpreted to include athletics and then all of a sudden the roof got blown off," says Drysdale. "The battle still rages. It's a whole lot better. But the battle hasn't been won."
When we pull up to Texas' softball stadium, I am impressed. The $4.5 million field holds over 1,200 fans and is one of the largest I've been to. Their facilities are state-of-the-art, from the locker rooms to the batting cages. Then I look across the street.
Looming in the distance, Texas' baseball stadium erupts on the horizon with a towering press box and a concourse of colossal proportions. Thanks to a $27 million renovation in 2009, it holds a staggering 6,500 spectators and looks more like a minor league ballpark than a college baseball field. As the sun beats down from its place high in the sky, my eyes wander to the mammoth video screen scoreboard in left field, a poignant part of the stadium casting metaphorical shadows on the group of women around me.
The field behind me symbolizes that we do, in fact, matter. But the field in front of me suggests that perhaps we still do not matter enough.