Since 1972, federally-funded educational institutions have been required to provide their male and female students with equal athletic opportunities. Thirty years ago, the passage of Title IX promised to change the face of collegiate athletics forever.
Initially, the pace of this change left something to be desired. It took schools years to create an equitable sports environment for women with regard to opportunity. Many more years passed before the funding for these sports began to approach the amounts of money that athletic departments were setting aside for their men’s teams.
Only recently have universities like Cornell begun to examine gender equity in terms of coaching, staff, equipment and team travel budgets.
“There is no doubt that times have changed in the past 15 years,” noted Cornell women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Graap ’86.
Graap is truly appreciative of all the resources available to her team today. A summary of her time as an athlete here in the 1980s illustrates just how far women’s athletics have progressed at Cornell in the last decade and a half.
“When I was a two- sport athlete at Cornell, we had to share uniforms, including cleats, with other women’s teams. The women’s lacrosse team didn’t have a locker room — we carried our sticks to class every day,” Graap explained.
Lack of funding for women’s sports also impacted team travel. Graap and her teammates could only afford to attend games within a short distance of Cornell.
“We didn’t ride in nice buses with VCRs — we crammed in vans driven by our coaches,” Graap added.
Female athletes and their coaches were equally affected by the funding deficits. In the late 80s and early 90s, Cornell’s athletic department could pay coaches of women’s teams only a fraction of what it can today. Frequently, assistant coaches and even head coaches could secure only part-time positions.
“There was never anyone to come talk to or to help coach you during the day because the head coach had to teach two or three P.E. classes each semester,” Graap explained. “We didn’t have full-time assistant coaches.”
Women’s ice hockey head coach Carol Mullins, who began coaching as a volunteer in 1992, reported a similar experience.
“When I came, the head coach was part-time and there were no assistants other than volunteers. There really weren’t that many [women’s ice hockey] programs in the U.S. that had full-time coaches,” Mullins explained.
“When I became an assistant here, I believe I was one of the first two women’s hockey full-time assistants in the U.S. So that says a lot about what Cornell has done for women’s hockey in the last 10 years. It’s come a long way since I’ve been here,” added Mullins.
In the last decade, Cornell and other universities have made concerted efforts to level the playing field for men and women by striving for a more equitable distribution of the athletic budget. As a result, women’s athletics have garnered unprecedented amounts of local and national attention as programs have become more and more competitive.
“I’ve seen that when you give women some resources, you get results,” said Graap, whose team is currently ranked fifth in the nation.
Unfortunately, there are still some funding discrepancies between the two genders that go beyond the reaches of the Title IX legislation. Each athletic team’s budget at Cornell is sustained by three major financial sources: university funds, endowments, and alumni support.
Although women now enjoy a substantial portion of the total funds allocated by the university, they lag far behind their male counterparts in terms of alumni support. Since most of the men’s athletic programs were founded long before universities even considered adding women’s teams, they have far more alumni and receive much more financial support from their former athletes.
“Every team is expected to raise more money [each year],” explained Anita Brenner, Cornell’s associate athletic director. “It’s a challenge for a lot of women’s teams who have younger alumni, some of whom aren’t as well established.”
To compensate for this deficit, the athletic department tries to budget more money to the teams that can’t accumulate funds by any other means. But it’s difficult to ensure that both genders receive the same financial benefits when extra-collegiate money comes pouring in to men’s athletic programs from their more established alumni bases.
“There’s not a lot you can do about it,” said coach Mullins.
“I think gender equity and how it pertains to the alumni contributions is an extremely interesting subject,” said Graap. “To me, there are some glaring inconsistencies.”
It can be frustrating for those committed to improving women’s collegiate athletics when alumni from men’s sports have large gifts to their old teams and the women’s programs receive nothing.
In some cases, however, men’s alumni gifts work to the advantage of both sexes. Money that goes towards building renovations or new playing fields, for example, can benefit men’s and women’s teams equally.
“[Alumni gifts] indirectly affect women’s programs,” explained Mullins. “I’m grateful for the support that the men’s hockey alumni have given them because it indirectly affects us.”
In an age where operation costs seem to be spiraling to greater heights every year, it is important that men’s and women’s teams make the most of alumni donations and university funds.
“[The operating expenses of] every single team across the board have increased dramatically. Just a couple of years ago, I think we were bringing in less than a million dollars for annual fund gifts. Now, we’re raising over two million dollars,” explained Brenner.
Brenner cited away games as the major contributor to the recent budget inflation.
“Team traveling expenses have skyrocketed,” Brenner said.
To make matters worse, the recent economic slump has caused a decrease in alumni giving levels this year.
“It has really affected us profoundly,” said Brenner.
To counterbalance these fiscal pitfalls, the athletic department is hoping that in the coming years, some programs will be able to support themselves entirely on endowments and alumni donations.
“Some years ago, we created this goal of having a number of teams achieve financial independence, and we’re still working toward that,” explained Brenner. “Pie in the sky, we have fully-endowed programs all over the place, but we’re so far from that.”
Mullins suggested that the answer to Cornell’s budgeting difficulties might be solved by adopting a more parsimonious attitude towards spending.
“The players love to look good, they love having the sharp things, but it’s really just about going out there and playing the game,” she said. “I think we could do the exact same thing with less money. I think all of us need to streamline. We can do better.”
Archived article by Meredith Long