Chris Gobrecht, whose memorable UW tenure included a reputation for speaking her mind, says she always felt Washington had the proper attitude of embracing Title IX.
Chris Gobrecht always thought she had it pretty good during her run as the women’s basketball coach at Washington from 1985 to 1996.
That realization, though, has only increased with the passage of time and future stops as coach at Florida State, USC and now Yale, where she has been since 2005.
“You can legislate opportunity, but you can’t legislate attitude,” Gobrecht says, referring to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that banned sex discrimination in schools and effectively charged college athletic departments with taking steps to provide equal playing opportunities for men and women.
And Gobrecht, whose memorable UW tenure included a reputation for speaking her mind, says she always felt Washington had the proper attitude of embracing Title IX.
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“It’s not purely a financial thing,” she said. “There’s lots of things that I didn’t recognize at the time but I look back on now that were statements being made that ‘we support women’s athletics.’ “
One of those, she recalls, is the corner office she was given in the Graves Building — the other corner offices went to athletic director Mike Lude, football coach Don James and men’s basketball coach Andy Russo.
Another was that the same band that played at every men’s basketball game played at every women’s basketball game — she says she has never worked anywhere since where the band was required to play at every women’s basketball game.
“Those may seem like little things,” Gobrecht said. “But it showed that Washington didn’t only do what they were supposed to do, that they did it happily.”
And those at UW say the Huskies’ long list of accomplishments in women’s sports — national titles in cross country, crew, volleyball and softball, a basketball team that memorably once outdrew the men’s team, and consistent top finishes in the Director’s Cup standings — speaks well to the school’s commitment to fully embrace Title IX.
Still, like all schools required 40 years ago to give equal opportunity to women, there were bumps along the way.
Women’s golf coach Mary Lou Mulflur, who was also the first female athlete on scholarship at UW when she signed in 1976, recalls the oft-told story of a women’s basketball game of that era in Edmundson Pavilion that conflicted with a men’s practice.
The game ran long, Mulflur says “so the girls got kicked out before their game was over. It’s funny that no one can think that would ever happen now. That’s how far we’ve come and that’s what it was like then, that their practice was more important than our game.”
When Title IX was passed, UW offered women’s sports only as club sports through the Intramurals program. By 1974, women’s sports had joined with the men’s athletic department and programs were established in basketball, crew, golf, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball. According to a history of UW athletics, “The Glory of Washington,” an initial budget was set of $200,000.
Scholarships began to be awarded two years later, and eventually the amount of scholarship money had to be proportionate to the number of women students at UW, as did the scholarship money awarded to men.
The message to state schools about complying with the order became even clearer in 1979, when a lawsuit filed against Washington State by 39 WSU athletes and 11 coaches alleged that WSU was not adequately funding women’s programs. The court decision led to the state Legislature passing a bill requiring the state’s publicly funded universities to provide men’s and women’s sports in the same ratio as the undergraduate population.
That brought with it, though, increasing financial responsibilities, and accompanying tough decisions.
Washington, for instance, cut men’s wrestling and men’s gymnastics in 1980, citing compliance with Title IX.
“We needed to put more funds into the women’s programs, to be more in compliance with Title IX,” Lude, who was UW’s athletic director from 1976 to ’91, said in a later interview with The Seattle Times.
Current UW athletic director Scott Woodward calls such decisions “unintended consequences … but in the end, there are some sacrifices for the greater good and unfortunately that’s (some sports being cut) part of it.”
Washington took another step toward showing its commitment to Title IX in 1991 when it hired Barbara Hedges as athletic director — only the second woman to be hired as a Division I AD and the first in the then-Pac-10. Hedges arrived from USC, where she had been hired by that school’s legendary football coach and athletic director, John McKay, to start up the women’s athletic program.
Under Hedges, UW’s women’s programs saw even broader success beyond the then-powerful basketball team.
Somewhat forgotten, though, is that it was under Lude that the decision was made in 1990 to start the women’s soccer and softball programs, the latter of which quickly became one of the best in the nation.
It was also under Lude that UW fought to get a bill passed by the state that provided for tuition waivers for women’s athletes to help the school stay in compliance with Title IX. Washington State also receives the same waivers. In 2011-12 the gender equity scholarship budget provided $3.06 million at Washington.
“My life has been greatly enriched by sports,” Lude said at the time. “This is putting something back. If I experienced all those things, why shouldn’t women have the same opportunities?”
Indeed, while Lude is remembered these days largely for helping James build what became one of the best football programs in the country in the late 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Mulflur says any perception that he begrudgingly accepted women’s sports is incorrect.
“A lot of people think Mike resented women’s sports,” she said. “But he didn’t. He really worked hard to find a way to make it work.”
Gobrecht said she also felt support from James, and that having the backing of the man who then was the face of the athletic department was vital.
“Don James was a very classy man and a very good coach, and I thought he was excited for our program’s success,” she said. “And I think that type of endorsement is all part of what gets the ball rolling that, ‘This is OK. This is good stuff.’ “
Mulflur, who was hired as UW’s golf coach in 1983 for just more than $3,000 a year and has remained since, says the changes brought by Title IX are evident in the attitudes of women athletes today, who take it as a given that they have similar opportunities as their male counterparts.
“My players now, they don’t get the full gist of what Title IX is, and that’s a good thing, the way I see it,” she said. “They just think they can go out and compete in anything and have as equal an opportunity as anybody else.”
It helped Washington to integrate women’s sports into an athletic department whose football program has been one of the most financially successful in the country. Football provides roughly 85 percent of the revenue of the athletic department each year at UW, money used to help pay for the other sports the school offers — a common formula throughout college sports.
Washington currently offers 10 men’s sports and 11 women’s sports. For the 2010-11 academic year, the Huskies had 408 men sports participants and 431 women (an athlete can be counted more than once if they participated in more than one sport. The unduplicated numbers were 331 men and 337 women).
Woodward, though, says the time has long passed when anyone could consider fielding a women’s athletic program as a financial burden.
“I don’t even view it as a challenge but as a tremendous asset,” he said. “Selfishly, I think we are doing it right here at the University of Washington. We can always improve, and I think there are parts of the country that probably don’t do it right and need to get better at it. But that’s what the people in the federal government do in enforcing Title IX — that’s not for me to judge.
“But I think in the Northwest and the West in particular, we have a very progressive and positive thought about Title IX and I think it shows in the success in what we have done with our female student-athletes.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta; material from Seattle Times archives was used.