As a fairly typical faculty member at a large American university, I have been pleased to witness progress on campuses brought about by civil rights legislation. One area of seeming progress, lauded by many, leaves me with mixed feelings. This area is women's sports programs. No one can argue that budgets and participation have not increased in women's sports. However, if this change simply leads women down the same sordid road traveled by men's sports, one can certainly question whether it can be called ``progress.''
Women's sports have traditionally been relegated to insignificant support and minor roles on American campuses. The reason given for this treatment was that such programs were small revenue producers. Not openly acknowledged was the fact that college athletic administrations were dominated by good-old-boy networks unsympathetic to women's sports.
The civil rights legislation that bans sex discrimination at institutions of higher education receiving federal funds (Title IX) was passed in 1972. Since that time there has been a significant increase in participants in women's intercollegiate sports and the number of athletic scholarships available to women. Women's sports budgets have increased to a reported 16 percent of all athletic budgets.
Disturbing signs are on the horizon, however. As with men's sports, the problem areas are most noticeable with the so-called major sports -- for instance women's basketball -- although no scholarship sport is immune. My colleagues at the University of Florida report an increasing number of women athletes in the remedial programs used by athletic departments to maintain eligibility. Boorish behavior by players, coaches, and those in the stands, so long a feature of men's competition, has reared its ugly head at women's contests. Women's sports are experiencing increased problems with that most trouble-prone of all the areas of present-day intercollegiate athletics, recruiting. The director of enforcement at the National Collegiate Athletic Association predicts a rise in rules violations in women's programs.
Despite the dismal record of male leadership in intercollegiate athletics, men have assumed authority over women's programs. An associate athletic director for women's athletics at the University of Florida was recently fired for disloyalty to the male athletic director after insisting on her prerogatives to run female sports programs. Males coach many women's teams, yet few women coach men's sports. And the 16-percent-of-budget figure doesn't sound like one arrived at by women.
Major athletic programs for men on college campuses in the United States are dens of corruption. An ``everybody-does-it'' and ``boys-will-be-boys'' attitude is used to excuse the continuous revelations of chicanery. Men's programs will have to go through a painful period of radical change in the near future to restore integrity. Meanwhile, during the formative years of this new era of women's athletics it is essential that women be given the authority and resources to prove that they can do a better job
than those who have gone before.
Ary J. Lamme III is a geographer at the University of Florida and editor of North American Culture.