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Leagues of their own Landmark legislation from 1972 forever leveled?the playing fields for female student-athletes

It seems as if Gail Maloney has been talking about Title IX for all 40 years of its existence. The former coach and administrator at Buffalo State even wrote her doctoral dissertation on the topic and for a few decades she was the go-to person in Western New York to explain the federal legislation and its impact on women's athletics.

After 40 years, does she ever get tired of talking about Title IX?

"No because we still don't have a lot of people understanding what it is," Maloney said. "It's amazing how this law is 40 years old and I'm still explaining it to people. It's like they've never heard of it or understood what it means and how it applies to the world."

The educator in Maloney likes to start with the historical approach, explaining that when Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the original implications were for better access to things like financial aid and admissions to medical school and law school. It wasn't until after the law was passed that the breadth of the language, and the intent, included opportunities in athletics in educational settings.

"This was not a law created for sports," Maloney said. "It was created for the medical schools, the law schools, places where women didn't have opportunity. When I was growing up, you never heard of a female doctor. Now, it's common. That's because of Title IX. The sports piece was secondary but that's where the law became famous or infamous.

"The impact it had in colleges and universities was that the men's side suddenly had to share. They were OK sharing financial aid and housing and admission opportunities. But when it came to athletics, that was different."

> Second-class citizens

When Title IX was passed, one in every 27 high school girls played sports. By 2001, the number was one in every 2.5 girls. Athletic scholarships for college? Practically unheard of for young women in 1972. By 2003, Division I schools granted millions of dollars in scholarships to women. A cultural shift began to take place where girls, who were once denigrated as "tomboys," were now encouraged to play sports. But that shift began with pioneering women, and men, who loved the game and wanted to see it grow.

It was in the fall of 1971 when M.J. Telford arrived at the St. Bonaventure campus from her home in Connecticut. She came to the school sight unseen to study and be part of the women's basketball team. "To be honest with you, we had no knowledge that there was even a Title IX," said Telford, who went on to coach her alma mater and was inducted to the St. Bonaventure Hall of Fame earlier this month. "A lot of schools like ours had no concept of Title IX. At that point, we just went on our merry way.

"Our practices were in Butler Gym. Our games were in Butler Gym. The men, of course, were in the Reilly Center. That was not an option for us. You provided all your own gear. You bought your own sneakers. There wasn't anyone to do your laundry except yourself. We didn't have home and away uniforms. When I took over coaching in 1975, it was a lot of baby steps."

Around the same time, Dr. Ellen Conley started teaching in the physical education department at Canisius College. There were no women's teams, yet she had students who really wanted to play. So she helped them get organized and to start playing under the umbrella of the physical education, not athletic, department.

"One of the other members of the physical education department agreed to coach and I just scheduled the games and drove the students to the games," Conley said. "When Title IX hit, we didn't experience a lot of resistance. I say that in this light — money was scarce everywhere. It wasn't as if we had tons of money for the men's teams as well."

> Softball gets started

That didn't mean that general attitudes changed easily or that administrators understood what was required to field a women's program. Mike Rappl came to Canisius as an undergraduate. He loved basketball, baseball and softball and quickly got involved where he could — and helping out the women's teams was pretty easy since they didn't have a whole lot of staff to begin with. Rappl stayed at Canisius, taking jobs to manage the school's athletic facilities and run the intramural program. Administrators asked him if he wanted to coach softball on the side.

"‘Hey, you're here, do you want to coach the softball team?' Then it was, ‘Oh you need a budget? We didn't think of that.' Those were the early years. There was no money for umpires or for bats and balls.

"Even though it wasn't stated, the attitude was that we were in the way. The girls have the gym now and the guys should be in here. Or the students need to shoot around, why should the girls have practice? Those kinds of things, let alone trying to get a budget to go recruiting or for scholarships."

> Pares thankful for law

Sister Maria Pares is thrilled she got to live through Title IX. A legendary Western New York coach, Sister Maria started in high school at Sacred Heart Academy. She went on to coach basketball at Canisius and Marquette before returning to coach at Sacred Heart. She calls Title IX "the greatest thing to ever happen to women."

"We were filled with glee and couldn't wait for it to start. For some of the men, it wasn't a happy thing for them. They'd have to share and we were the villains. Slowly but surely people started to figure out we weren't fooling around about it and saw there were many outstanding young women who were playing."

The infamous part of Title IX comes into play when schools attempt to figure out how to comply with the law. The Office of Civil Rights, charged with enforcing Title IX, set guidelines including the "three-prong test." Schools needed to comply with just one of the three prongs in order to satisfy Title IX — proportionality, a history of adding women's sports or meeting the needs and interests of the student population. Because compliance can be fluid, it can also be misunderstood.

"People look at Title IX as a very black and white law and it's really not," Maloney said. "It's got lots of freedom and lots of opportunities to be implemented. It's not dollar per dollar spending. You always have to take into account the cost differences for certain sports. It's not necessarily a sport-by-sport comparison.

Legal battles in the late 1980s and early 1990s paved the way for gender equity in collegiate athletic programs to be taken seriously. The landmark case came in 1996 in Cohen vs. Brown University. Female athletes won a ruling in federal court after Brown decided to demote its women's gymnastics and volleyball teams to being funded only by donors rather than by the university. The cuts in funding, the court ruled, violated Title IX. The court also rejected Brown's challenge to Title IX that hinged on the stereotype that men are more interested in sports than women.

> Women join NCAA

In the mid-1980s local colleges made a commitment to their women's programs. Schools moved their female student-athletes out of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), then the national governing body for women's intercollegiate sports, into the NCAA. The change in affiliation included a change in philosophy. The AIAW was based on a participation model of sports for women, banning — or severely limiting — scholarships. The organization also didn't pay for schools to travel to regional or national championships. The NCAA paid a school's way when it got to the championship stage, and also allowed scholarships and recruiting under a competition model.

"There were many female athletic administrators who were very disappointed," Conley said. "But we moved into the NCAA for what were then obvious reasons. If you went to an NCAA championship they paid. AIAW didn't have the resources to do that. So we transitioned [women's sports] into the athletic department."

> Charge doesn't stick

Still, numbers are easy to understand and with tight budgets some schools have chosen to cut into men's programs in order to create and sustain women's programs. But the charge that Title IX has hurt men's sports is one that doesn't ring true for Don Sabo. Sabo, who played football at the University at Buffalo and teaches at D'Youville, is one of the premier researchers in the United States on gender and sport. Part of his recent focus has been Title IX and gender equity at the high school level, where old-school notions of girls and sports still exist, especially in urban school districts and among some minority populations.

"There are some well-intentioned administrators out there, but there is also a lack of awareness and some administrators who are intent on maintaining male privilege," Sabo said. "It's really sad and I'll tell you why. I think it's really shortsighted to view the provision of athletic opportunities to girls and boys at the high school and middle school level as a zero sum game, that there are only so many opportunities to go round. The corollary of that is that when you give girls more opportunities that boys lose. So that basically girls' gains equals boys' losses. There is absolutely no evidence for that at all. Maybe there are some anecdotes where that has happened at certain schools but there is no data to support that across the board. So what is the opposite of a zero sum game? It's a growth model for interscholastic sports."

email: amoritz@buffnews.com