When the University of Massachusetts Minutemen crossed the threshold of major college basketball in March by making their first appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16, many Minutewomen might have had difficulty rejoicing. Less than a year earlier the UMass women's tennis and volleyball teams had received pink slips. The women's lacrosse team had suffered a similar fate in 1990.
The women's tennis team was especially upset. After it raised $5,000 to pay for basic operating expenses and a tiny coaching stipend (coach Edwin Gentzler took a pay cut from $9,000 to $1,000), it was allowed a "terminal" season. The team went 7-5 in the fall of '91, its best season in several years. When the women offered to raise funds for another season, they were told not to bother. "The courts are in a disgraceful condition," said David Bischoff, who was then dean of the physical-education and athletic department and is no longer with the university. "Some people would even call them dangerous. There's no money to upgrade them."
"That's just an excuse," says Gail Girasella, a member of the Minutewomen's tennis team who graduated in the spring. "Those courts have been in terrible condition for years. They have never been a problem before." Indeed, the weedy and patched courts were good enough for the 200 or so children who paid $170 apiece for a week of tennis lessons at the UMass Sports Camp this summer.
Though the school claimed that a state ban on capital outlays prevented it from upgrading the tennis courts, it used private donations to improve the football and baseball stadiums and the men's lacrosse field and to build a new basketball-hockey arena. And despite the economic crunch UMass claims to be under, the school plans to start offering men's hockey, the third most expensive college sport (after football and basketball), in 1994. No new women's sports are planned. As a result of the cuts in women's sports and the addition of men's hockey, the proportion of UMass athletes who are female, which has dropped from 37% to 32% in the last four years, will plunge further.
The women are also second-class citizens when it comes to the athletic department's operation and scholarship budgets. While the department receives a lot of private donations, they are usually earmarked for men's sports. When the UMass men's soccer team was cut in May 1991, a company owned by an alumnus saved the team with a donation of $780,000. By accepting that money and not finding money elsewhere for women's sports, the school widened the gap between men and women athletes, violating Title IX.
The yearly cost of running the 12-member women's tennis team, which offers no scholarships, is $14,000. By comparison, the budget for the men's basketball team, which has 12 to 14 players, 11 on scholarship, will be $750,000 this year. Since the women tennis players are willing to pay to play for UMass, it's hard to understand why the athletic department will not reinstate the sport. (The men's tennis team, which was also cut, accepted demotion to club status.) "It's discrimination," says Girasella. "Women don't matter. They think we don't mind getting cut, that we aren't as dedicated as male athletes."
The school is finding out just how dedicated these women athletes are. The tennis and lacrosse teams contacted Arthur Bryant of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington, D.C., firm, and Patty Flannery of Thornton & Early in Boston, and as of Friday they were negotiating to reinstate their sports. "The teams don't want to go to court," says Flannery, "but if they have to, they will."