Let It Shine

With new clarity on the enforcement of Title IX in place, now is the time to polish up on the details.

By Margie Wright

Margie Wright is the Head Softball Coach at Fresno State University. She is the NCAA’s all-time winningest softball coach and has taken her team to 18 straight Division I postseason tournaments.

Athletic Management, 15.6, October/November 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1506/gpletitshine.htm

In Warrensburg, Ill., where I grew up in the 1960s, there were no high school sports for girls. I never questioned that reality, but every day I played basketball with the boys in my neighborhood, and every day I was chosen first for a team. So I knew I must be an okay player.

Not that it mattered much, I thought. Warrensburg was a small farming town and, like all my older sisters, I would be getting married right out of high school.

Then, a friend a year older than I went to college and told me she got to play basketball on the college’s team. I told my mom and dad, “I’m going to college.” I got a loan, enrolled at Illinois State University, and joined the basketball, softball, and field hockey teams. And that changed my life.

I have been involved in athletics ever since, and have had my share of ups and downs as a female athlete and coach. My first college coaching job entailed taking a $3,000 pay cut (I was teaching high school before that). But, I’ve also had the thrill of coaching a team that won the Women’s College World Series and bringing home a gold medal from the 1996 Olympics as an assistant coach.

Needless to say, Title IX is important to me. And the announcement this summer regarding Title IX enforcement is a huge positive, I feel, for the athletic community. On the surface, the federal government’s announcement may have seemed to say nothing more than, “Let’s keep the status quo.” But, it really said more than that. It actually strengthened Title IX.

First of all, it made the statement that Title IX is still needed. It recognized that we are not close to equality in providing opportunities to female athletes in educational settings. It acknowledged there is still much work to be done.

Second, by saying that cutting men’s sports is a disfavored practice, it recognized that Title IX has been a scapegoat for the elimination of men’s sports on some campuses. Here at Fresno State, we recently cut two men’s sports and the administration suggested the move was due to Title IX.

Now, athletic departments cannot interpret Title IX as a go-ahead to cut men’s sports. And that’s an emotional savior. Because whenever a university lost a men’s sport, women’s sports were mistakenly feeling guilty.

I also think the government’s announcement indicated a commitment to work with institutions and not leave them hanging out there to make their own decisions. That should help eliminate the ongoing questions about all the components of Title IX.

What’s Next
Now that there is some clarification on the proportionality prong, I think athletic administrators need to start looking at the other aspects of Title IX. Things like salaries, quality of facilities, quality of equipment, obtaining sponsorships, and providing resources for fund-raising all need to be examined.

Many universities have poured a lot of money into their women’s basketball programs and said, “We’re in compliance.” I don’t think that truly constitutes being in compliance. Athletic administrators need to spread their resources to more than just one women’s sport program.

Here at Fresno State, we have a $5 million stadium for softball, but my coaching staff and I had to fund-raise to help pay the money back for it. We had to build it because we were out of compliance, but it was the softball program’s responsibility to help find the money for it. And we didn’t have enough money to install restrooms on both sides of the stadium.

We’ve been using portable restrooms since 1996. Every year, I tell administrators, “We need real restrooms.” Last year we found someone to donate $150,000 to install permanent restrooms on our side of the field, but there still are none for the visitors.

Now this summer, the administration is putting half a million dollars into our baseball stadium, which is already in pretty good shape. And we’re still directing our visitors to portable restrooms. Administrators need to step forward and recognize when an inequality is causing problems. When they formulate their budgets, they need to examine the little things that may be needed for each team.

Know Your History
If we care about women’s sports, we cannot become complacent. If you are a younger coach or administrator, you may not know how different things were before Title IX and how much work went into fighting for the changes we take for granted today.

There was no scholarship money for female athletes when I went to college, and I spent 20 years repaying my college loans. I have had to battle to get the salary I now enjoy. I have had to speak out against what I felt was wrong, even when it was not in my best personal interest to do so. I do not regret any of it, but I do worry that there will be no one to pick up the slack whenever I decide to hang up my whistle.

Title IX is always going to be an issue—especially when it is seen as taking something away from men to give to women. That attitude has changed some over time, but there is still a long way to go.

So my hope is that this recent challenge to Title IX will allow younger coaches and younger administrators to realize that, in one decision, it could change. And because of that, they’ll start to ask more questions and analyze resources more equitably.

Granted, this is hard to do. But, if no one had stood up and questioned the Title IX Commission’s recommendations, if no one had ever taken their school to court, if no one had ever fought to pass Title IX in the first place, the landscape of high school and college athletics would look a lot different today.

The next time you stop by your volleyball or field hockey or women’s basketball practice, and you see tomorrow’s leaders practicing their hearts out, think about where they might be without Title IX. And think about what else you can do to make their experience as meaningful as the football team’s. Think about how to open doors with Title IX’s help, not how to close them.