Editor’s note: It’s been nearly 50 years since the passage of Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Chuck Corbin was head of physical education at K-State when it became law.
Don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Men’s athletics was the goose, and women’s athletics were the potential goose killer according to Dave Wright, the sports editor of the Manhattan Mercury in the 1970s.
HEW could ruin college athletics. So said the headline for an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal written by Hall of Fame Sports Editor Bob Hentzen. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) was charged with developing and administering Title IX legislation passed in 1972. Title IX and HEW were seen as the culprits that would kill college athletics (read as men’s college athletics).
Men’s collegiate athletic programs were well established in the 1970s. At K-State the men’s athletic budget for the fiscal year ending in 1970 was $1.5 million. Yet women’s athletics received only a few thousand dollars from the Intramural Sports Club budget. The 1971 yearbook notes that women’s intercollegiate competition “coached by members of the women’s Physical Education Department and sponsored by the Intramural Department ….is in its second year.” To support travel, lodging, etc., female athletes held car washes and other funding events. Meanwhile, both men and women students (14,789 in 1971) were assessed a $4.25 fee per semester to retire the construction bonds for the football stadium. Assuming a 50/50 split, women students paid $62,853.25 to the fund during a typical two semester school year. The women of Kansas paid taxes that funded the state budget and K-State. Yet funds from taxes were available only to male athletes at K-State.
In the fall of 1971 (exactly 50 years ago), I was hired to head the Department of Physical Education at K-State. I was charged with combining the men’s and women’s departments, supervising the planning and construction of a building addition to Ahearn to replace the Nichols gym, which had burned down in 1968, overseeing the revision of the curriculum for physical education majors and the required PE program, developing research and instructional laboratories, and instituting faculty research programs. I was aware of the daunting nature of the task, but I did not count on having to deal with the athletic wars that occurred over the next few years (e.g., negotiating facilities use agreements, requesting funds from higher administration for women’s athletics, negotiating with faculty about academic vs. coaching duties).
During the time when men’s and women’s programs were integrated, many of the physical education faculty members were also athletic coaches. The women volunteered “during their free time,” while the men who coached got partial payment for coaching with funding from the state (including the head football and basketball coaches who were paid half time from the state instructional budget). I prepared a time management survey and found that coaches spent much more time coaching than teaching and performing the academic related tasks (e.g., advising, research) of their job description. With the consent of the associate dean, I informed all coaches who were teaching in the department that they must become either full-time faculty members in the department or full-time coaches. A two-year timeline was set.
The notification was not well received by either the women or men coaches. But it did result in progress. Those who chose to be faculty members in physical education soon gave up coaching and devoted full time to their academic duties
and those who chose coaching found support for their coaching duties and gave up their academic responsibilities. By the deadline, Judy Akers was appointed as associate athletic director for women’s sports. She coached women’s basketball and softball and was instrumental in promoting women’s sports at K-State. In the 1974 yearbook she indicated that “I am one of a handful of women’s athletic directors in the nation. Most are instructors in physical education and handle the job on the side.” The decision to take a full-time athletic position was a good one, even though few agreed when the decision was made.
The appointment of a women’s athletic director was a crucial step in the right direction. However, lack of resources did not make the director’s job an easy one. Lack of money was the primary problem and little help was forthcoming from Men’s Athletics. A presidential committee recommended additional funding for women’s athletics. The committee, however, indicated that the funds should not come from the men’s athletics budget. A bill was proposed for funding by the state legislature (see 1974 yearbook). In the meantime, it fell to me as physical education department head to appeal directly to President McCain for funding, especially for travel to national tournaments for very successful women’s basketball, track and swim teams.
Among the many other problems confronting women’s sports programs were lack of a national organization overseeing women’s athletic programs, lack of access to adequate locker rooms and practice facilities and lack of respect for women’s sports (often disparaged in the press and on campus). The NCAA initially declined to offer women’s sports. Accordingly, women’s coaches founded the Association of Kansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports League (see 1971 yearbook). Soon women’s coaches united to form the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (AIAW) that sponsored national tournaments and provided rules and regulations for women’s programs. Participation in AIAW required payment of dues and travel to serve on committees, another expense for which there was no funding.
As cited in the 1971 yearbook, “Co-ed teams practiced early in the morning as well as late at night as to not interfere with the men’s varsity sports…” The construction of an addition to Ahearn Field House provided additional court space. However, only hard bargaining yielded more access to facilities over time since there were many demands for facilities (e.g., academic classes, intramurals, men’s athletics, women’s athletics).
The lack of respect for women’s sports is noted by early women athletes at K-State. For example, “The image of the female ‘jock’ continues to linger, causing some K-State women to defend themselves (1974 yearbook).” “We’re females who like sports and go out for them. We are no different than any other athlete (1974 yearbook).” Especially notable was the fact that female athletes could not earn the block K athletic letters awarded to male athletes and female athletes were “Wildkittens,” not full-fledged Wildcats. Efforts to get access to athletic letters were denied by the all-male athletic department in the early 1970s. Only many years later did women letter-winners get block K letters.
Topeka sports writer Hentzen and other naysayers who defended men’s athletics lack of support for women’s programs were wrong. HEW did not ruin college athletics. HEW and Title IX made opportunities available to women and made collegiate athletics stronger. In addition, moving coaches from academic to coaching positions allowed the physical education (now kinesiology) faculty to focus on their central mission as teachers, researchers, and community servants.
Dave Wright of The Mercury was also wrong. Men’s athletics at K-State were not the goose that laid golden eggs in the 1970s. In fact, the men’s programs were deeply in debt. Women’s programs did not kill the goose. In fact, K-State athletic programs are much stronger today than they were back then.
Wright also wrote that women shouldn’t get into the dog-eat-dog world of sports because women’s sports were “pure and clean.” But these were common refrains from those who wanted to suppress women’s programs. To be sure, there are many problems with college athletics, but building a separate model to “protect” women and deny equal access for women (scholarships for example) was not the answer.
Nearly 50 years later, I look at the current K-State Athletic Department website and see a thriving women’s sports program. Women’s sports programs, initially rejected by the NCAA, are now regulated by the NCAA. Athletic scholarships, unavailable to women in the 1970s, are now granted to them in a variety of sports. Much of the credit goes to the women athletes who fought for the right to participate and the women who volunteered their time to coach them and fight for funding and the resources necessary to conduct programs. However, without Title IX the progress would not have been as fast and effective as it has been in making collegiate sports programs available to women.
Title IX had benefits other than for female athletes at K-State. There were benefits for faculty and non-athlete students as well. The legislation helped administrators as they made salary adjustments for female faculty members who were underpaid compared to male faculty members with similar years of service and with similar accomplishments. Classes for health and physical education majors and activity classes available to all university students became coeducational.
Now, one half a century later, it is easy to see that HEW and Title IX did not kill men’s sports, but they did much to make sports and other educational opportunities available to women at K-State and throughout the United States.