As college athletic departments struggle financially in tough economic times, they must keep Title IX requirements in mind when making decisions.

Share story

Deep inside the Bohler Athletic Complex at Washington State University it sits: An old swimming pool once earmarked to be filled and turned into somebody’s office.

Then Title IX stepped in. And if ever there were a monument to the mandate for equality in women’s sports, this is it.

As WSU and Washington grapple this summer with budget cutbacks in severe economic times, it goes unsaid that whatever measures each school takes, they aren’t crafted until careful consideration is given to what the impact might be on Title IX and opportunities for women.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Decades ago, that 1928-built pool housed WSU swim teams. Then a new pool was built next door in the physical-education building in 1970. Shortly after that the men’s team was lopped, revived, then axed for good in 1981.

For a time, Pullman High School used the old pool for practice. Then the city rented it out. Eventually, it went into dry dock and was used for equipment storage.

Finally, enter the women’s rowing program, a great equalizer nationally in reconciling the tricky numbers of Title IX. On the strength of $1.2 million, the pool was turned into a 16-person rowing tank, a practice facility the Cougars started using in February for simulating a crew on open water.

A good chunk of that money came when Ohio State bailed out of a football game at Qwest Field once scheduled for this September, and bought the Cougars out of it.

Twenty or 30 years ago, that sort of assistance — king football throwing a lifeline to rowing — would have been unheard of.

It’s not just about the money

It has been said that college athletics is big business, and it is. Yet no stone-hearted businessman would ever run his shop like Scott Woodward or Jim Sterk, the athletic directors at Washington and Washington State.

If this were only about making money, and not social, legal and moral considerations, it would be a snap. They’d simply operate a football and men’s basketball program and spend their days cashing checks.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Each program is bound to offer a broader-based menu of men’s and women’s sports, roughly in proportionality, by Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 that banned sex discrimination in schools.

It’s like this: They’re running a bakery that’s eminently successful making only cakes, and somebody rules that they have to make pies, too.

The dynamic is the same at most big-time Division I schools, varying only by degree: Football and men’s basketball are the chief moneymakers, and rare is the women’s sport that nets a profit.

According to figures Washington submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for 2007-08, the Huskies, fueled by more than $37 million from football, had some $47.176 million in revenue in men’s sports, compared to $4.013 million in women’s sports. In the same report, both Washington and WSU noted revenues 10 times greater in men’s basketball than women’s basketball.

Washington’s Woodward says he doesn’t see that changing.

“It’ll get better marginally,” he says. “But prolifically, no. I don’t see that in the next decade.”

In the next breath, he adds, “You can look at it just like campus looks at majors. Some majors cost a lot more than others to operate and run, and the tuition is the same.

“It’s about opportunity. That’s what our mission is here. We’re the Pac-10, we’re the conference of champions, and we’re going to do as many sports as we can afford to.”

The NCAA tells them they have to sponsor at least 14 sports for Division I membership, including at least seven women’s sports. Washington, which cut men’s and women’s swimming this spring, now has 19 sports (10 women’s). Washington State has 15 sports (9 women’s).

Generally, women seem to have captured the academic/athletic ideal better than men, or at least men in revenue sports. Women get better grades, they don’t show up on the police blotter assaulting people or being drunk in public, and they understand — as the NCAA advertisement always reminds us during March Madness — most college athletes will be going pro in something other than sports.

But there’s that one hitch. Almost none of those women’s sports pay for themselves. The booster with the big bank account invariably gets his kicks — and opens his money clip to the athletic department — when his football team kicks the tail of his next-door neighbor’s alma mater on Saturday.

So while Woodward and Sterk are running a business, it’s also fraught with many other considerations.

Some Title IX history: The legislation has had an undulating and often controversial existence. Some 35 years ago, an athletic director at Oregon State, Jim Barratt, marked his resignation from college athletics with this memorable line: “I will not be sacrificed at the altar of Title IX.”

There were schools that fought the legislation and invited lawsuits, while others grappled with how to apply it. Many men’s nonrevenue programs died off, their supporters decrying Title IX, while the law’s backers have always held that anger to be misplaced, pointing out that sports like wrestling don’t make money, either.

Female athletes prevailed in a 1987 case initially heard in Whitman County Superior Court, Blair v Washington State University. That was a landmark decision that helped lead to a standard developed by the Department of Education requiring compliance on at least one of three prongs:

• A school’s percentage of female athletes must be roughly proportional to the general female enrollment;

• Or a school can show that it has a history of improving gender equity;

• Or it can comply by accommodating all the athletic interests and needs of its students.

Title IX survived some rough seas during the George W. Bush administration, including in 2005, when a Department of Education policy revision proposed that schools could survey their female enrollment on interest in athletics and reflect those results in compliance. Under pressure, the DOE backed off.

No doubt that pleased Irene Arden, a high-level University of Washington swimmer of the 1970s whose college career ended on scholarship thanks to Title IX, after years of traveling in vans and wearing discarded sweatsuits from the men’s team.

“When women excel in sports, they excel in other areas of their life, too,” she says. “It gives them that self-confidence.”

Rowing as a Title IX equalizer

No women’s sport has reaped the benefits of Title IX like rowing, a high-numbers sport that helps athletic directors balance the big rosters in football and satisfy proportionality requirements.

Washington listed 152 women rowers, among 346 athletes in all women’s sports, in 2007-08. Its next-biggest women’s roster was 62 in track and field.

WSU, meanwhile, allots significantly more scholarship money to rowing than any other women’s sport and has had more than 80 in the program. More than 30 athletes divide 20 full scholarships in a sport WSU introduced in 1990 in what amounted to a make-good on failed gender-equity efforts of the past.

To hear Jane LaRiviere tell it, the Cougars have held up their end of the bargain.

“All you have to do is look outside my office window,” says the WSU rowing coach, pointing to the rowing tank. “They don’t do that for people they don’t care about.”

LaRiviere came to WSU in 2002 with a skeptical eye, having been places where little slights were noticeable: Fewer T-shirts given to rowers, less access to the weight room.

“When I got here, I literally felt I had found Utopia,” she says. “I was like, ‘You know what, these guys are really committed.’ It sounds totally goofy, but they’re just really nice people. I always feel we’re treated fairly.

“I want football to win and thrive. If they even ask me to compromise something, I would. But they just haven’t asked yet.”

In these times, they might. But the formidability of Title IX in its fourth decade suggests they won’t ask for too much.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

UW has 10 men’s sports and 11 women’s sports:
Sport Men Women
Baseball 37
Basketball 13 14
Football 100
Golf 8 7
Gymnastics 15
Rowing 64 152
Soccer 23 28
Softball 19
Swimming 20 23
Tennis 12 10
Track and field, cross country combined 51 62
Volleyball 16
Total 328 346
Washington State
WSU has 6 men’s sports and 9 women’s sports:
Sport Men Women
Baseball 43
Basketball 17 13
Football 123
Golf 11 10
Rowing 84
Soccer 27
Swimming 19
Tennis 10
Track and field, cross country combined 105 97
Volleyball 14
Total 299 274

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.