I’d like to take credit, but I’m sure Jeff Long, the University of Arkansas’s first-year athletic director, doesn’t know I exist. I’m sure his decision to henceforth refer to all Razorback athletes — men and women — as Razorbacks was reached without knowledge of my encouragement.
If you missed the news, we’ve now seen the natural outgrowth of the combination of the men’s and women’s athletics departments after the retirement of Frank Broyles. Their websites have been merged under ArkansasRazorbacks.com. Gone is the Lady ‘Backs moniker, a nickname that always struck me as vaguely off-color. I wrote in June that “Lady” nicknames were being dropped nationwide and said UA should follow suit by.
The Democrat-Gazette’s coverage of the name change included a mention that intercollegiate sports for women at UA date back only to 1971. Department spokesmen tell me there’s a record of women playing sports on campus much earlier, but women’s athletics received official sanction only in the early 1970s, beginning with a tennis team in 1971-72. Basketball began in 1976. Diann Ousley won a national championship in the indoor 600-meter run in 1979. Records are sketchy. Women were decidedly second-class citizens then, with none of the obsessive statistics gathering and hero worship accorded male sports.
Why 1971, you might ask? Officials saw the coming landmark civil rights legislation in 1972 that banned sex discrimination in schools, whether in academics or athletics.
The Title IX legislation was hated by most administrators of men’s athletics, particularly Broyles. Since men’s sports, mainly football, provided most athletic revenue, it followed in their minds that all the money should be spent on men, even on non-revenue athletics like golf and gymnastics. The administrators feared gender equity could somehow cut into football spending, the lodestar of college sports.
Title IX has never required dollar equity, but it does require equal opportunity. Women have responded eagerly. They know that active younger years mean longer, healthier lives and they are every bit as competitive as men. Given the chance, they want to be on playing fields, too.
Thanks to Title IX, women’s athletics have flowered. Women’s participation in college sports has almost quintupled since 1972. Still, while women account for 55 percent of college enrollment, they account for only about 45 percent of all athletes.
If you believe Frank Broyles, men suffered as a result of women’s gains. Indeed, particularly at the Division I level, some men’s teams have been dropped to add women’s teams. But, overall, at all collegiate levels, there’s been a small net gain in the total number of men’s team sports since Title IX. And the number of men playing college sports rose from 169,800 in 1981-82 to 222,838 in 2004-05, according to NCAA data.
Pure equality hasn’t arrived. The NCAA data show that female college athletes receive only 45 percent of athletic scholarship dollars, 38 percent of sports operating dollars and 33 percent of recruitment money — overall, more than $1 billion less.
But enthusiasm continues to grow. Arkansas high schools field many teams for women. In 1968, my large Louisiana high school had a tennis team and nothing else strenuous, save cheerleading, for women. At Fayetteville that year, fully sanctioned playing field activities for women began and ended with the Hog call.
It’s a new and brighter day thanks to Jeff Long. Let a “Woo, Pig” resound for men and women alike, Razorbacks all.