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For Billie Jean King, opportunity means everything. On Tuesday she honored Purdue, Tennessee Tech, Washington State, and State University of New York at Buffalo for making gender equity a priority. The four schools were winners of the Women's Sports Foundation's inaugural ''Opportunity Awards,'' created in honor of the 35th anniversary of Title IX.
''We are still underrepresented, but we're getting there,'' said King, founder of the Women's Sports Foundation. ''We know it's invaluable to be in sports.''
Each school earned an ''A'' in a new study titled ''Who's Playing College Sports?'' that addresses college sports participation levels from 1995 to 2005.
Compiled by John Cheslock, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona in conjunction with the Women's Sports Foundation, the report looked at divisions I, II, III, and all six major college athletic organizations--NCAA, NAIA, NCCAA, NJCAA, COA, and NWAAC.
The "A" schools had a gap of two points or less in the percentage of female athletes to the female student body. An "F" required a gap of 22 points or more.
''Gender equity is a part of who we are,'' said SUNY-Buffalo athletic director Warde Manuel, whose eighth-grade daughter, Emma, is a tennis player and wants to be a pediatrician. ''Emma drives my determination to continue to provide equitable opportunities.''
A sampling of grades at prominent schools: Arizona (B+), Connecticut (B+), Colorado (B), Florida (B-), Georgia (C+), Iowa (C+), Kansas (B+), Michigan (A), Minnesota (B+), North Carolina (C-), Notre Dame (A-), Oregon (C), Rutgers (C+), Stanford (A), Temple (B-), Tennessee (B+), Texas (B+), University of Southern California (B+), Washington (A-), and Wisconsin (A-).
The NCAA earned a C.
The study indicated women's sports made steady gains in the mid 1990s, but those increases have stalled since 2001. As of 2004-2005 women made up 56% of undergraduates but only 42% of athletes. According to the report, an additional 151,000 female athletes would need to be added to reach 56%.
To comply with Title IX, a school can show proportionality of female athletes to female students on campus; a history of increasing sports for women; or prove it has met the interest and ability of the underrepresented group.
Some 87% of schools did not achieve proportionality, according to the report, and 75% did not increase the number of women's sports since 2001.
Soccer was the fastest growing sport among women, by more than 4,000 participants, followed by rowing (2,779), softball (2,203), swimming (1,630) and lacrosse (1,550).
Division II had the largest increase in women's teams, while Division I-A and I-AA had the lowest from 2001 to 2005.
''A lot of people keep thinking and reading where men's sports have been decreased, and that's not true,'' King said. ''People say 'What happened to my wrestling, what happened to my tennis program?' Well, things have shifted. It's the decision of the educational institution where they want to spend their money.''
Cheslock pointed out that almost two thirds (16 of 25) of men's sports had gains between 2001 and 2005.
''It is true that men's gymnastics, tennis, and wrestling have declined over time,'' he said. ''It's also true that in terms of participation, men's baseball, football, lacrosse, and soccer have increased by much larger amounts, meaning there's been an overall increase.''
While men's participation decreased slightly for Division I-A, it remained mostly the same in Division I-AA and Division I-AAA and grew in Division II and III.
''The only subset that experienced declines in men's sports was Division I-A, the richest institutions, 100 out of almost 2,000 schools,'' said Donna Lopiano, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. ''It leads you to believe it's [caused by] anything but Title IX. It's money.''
Eric Pearson, chairman of the College Sports Council, disagreed, saying his group's data suggests men's teams and numbers have declined.
''To us, this report card proves all they care about is gender quotas, and [the report card] provides a hit list for litigation,'' Pearson said. ''It focuses on one way of compliance--proportionality. There are three ways of complying, why focus on one?''
But King said the CSC's data focuses too much on one too: wrestling.
''They'll take one program that's been dropped, but they don't give the whole picture,'' she said.
King contends female athletes remain significantly underrepresented in college sports and that Title IX should not be weakened.
''Young people are the future,'' she said. ''Young girls are still underserved. We need to keep working on girls having equal opportunity.'' (AP)