Score one for athletic equity

Dec. 18, 2013 @ 04:36 PM

Forty-one years after the blandly named federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 began a tectonic shift in high school and college athletics, the quest for gender equity in the gyms and pools and on the playing fields is far from over.

The progress, to be sure, has been enormous. For the generation suiting up on campuses today, it may be all but impossible to fathom that four decades ago, women in competitive sports were rare, scorned by many and playing with equipment and in facilities that were staggeringly inferior to what boys and young men used.

But the fact that even an elite, prestigious and generally progressive institution such as Duke University still has gaps to close underscores the arduous journey it has been.

On Monday, Duke announced it will add a softball team in 2018 to its already extensive intercollegiate athletic program.  And four existing women’s teams – fencing, rowing, swimming and diving and track and field – will finally receive the maximum number of scholarships the NCAA permits.

“Duke University is fully committed to providing the most complete educational and athletic opportunities for women,” Duke Athletics Director Kevin White said. “Adding both softball and new scholarships will enhance and enrich the collective experiences for female student athletes.”

The addition of softball will mean that Duke fields more women’s teams – 14 – than men’s – 13. But men’s participation overall virtually everywhere is skewed upward by football, which fields 85 scholarship players, far more than any other team, and is only a men’s sport.

Unmentioned in Duke’s announcement Monday was the fact a women’s sports group – and an Olympian who is a Duke alumna – had lobbied the university for the changes.

The Women’s Sports Foundation called it “an advocacy win” on its website Tuesday.  The announcement came, the foundation said, “one year after Duke University Women’s Alumni Associations and WSF senior director of advocacy, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, began a concerted effort to advocate for Title IX compliance at the University….The addition of both participation opportunities and scholarships will likely bring Duke into compliance with Title IX.”

Duke is far from alone in grappling with the challenge of full athletic equity, and is far ahead of many institutions. Hogshead-Makar, a swimmer who was the first female athlete to receive an athletic scholarship at Duke, sketched the national context in a 2012 interview with the NCAA.

“Women right now are 43 percent of student-athletes, but 57 percent of the student body,” she said. “Every single year, there is a $153,000,000 difference between male and female athletics scholarships. So, every decade that’s $1.5 billion. And, it’s important to remember that they’re not getting this because they are female.

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

Duke’s announcement was an important part of the forward motion, and reason for applause.