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Curry Kirkpatrick
December 03, 1979
Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion rules the world of women's basketball, to which her rough-and-tumble style of play has given a spectacular new dimension
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December 03, 1979

The Game Is Her Dominion

Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion rules the world of women's basketball, to which her rough-and-tumble style of play has given a spectacular new dimension

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Old Dominion University was founded in 1930 as the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary. The school became independent in 1962 and gained university status seven years later. Chockablock with red brick and gray slate buildings, the ODU campus is in the southeast corner of Norfolk, the largest city in Virginia, a place surrounded for the most part by water. To the north is Chesapeake Bay; to the west, Hampton Roads; to the east, the Atlantic. Not long ago Norfolk's downtown dock areas underwent a face-lift. Now high-rise hotels and restored colonial townhouses are to be seen. A street or two are paved with cobblestones. The city's outlying neighborhoods are green and leafy. Touristy Virginia Beach is nearby. So, it seems, are approximately nine-tenths of our nation's Naval forces. The first lady of the Commonwealth recently flew into town to pay some political dues: Elizabeth T. Warner out of the Virginia hunt country by way of Hollywood and Vine.

At ODU blond student beach bums stroll across campus with confederate flags painted on their shirts and surfboards slung across their shoulders. Enrollment is 14,000. It is only a rumor that 12,000 are on basketball scholarships. Nevertheless, the sport has a rich tradition at ODU. In 1965 a coach named Sonny Allen began the move toward big-time basketball. In 10 years Allen's men's teams won 181 games in NCAA Division II, were the national runner-up in 1971 (with Dave Twardzik) and the champion in 1975 (with Wilson Washington).

Allen up and left for SMU after ODU won that title, but the present men's coach, Paul Webb, has carried the torch. In the three seasons since switching to Division I the Monarchs have won 59 games and gone to the NIT twice; this year they have their best team with two potential All-Americas in Ronnie Valentine and Ronnie McAdoo.

About the same time ODU applied for membership in the major college division, Athletic Director Jim Jarrett decided to upgrade the women's basketball program. An avid tennis player, Jarrett had noted with interest the numbers women were attracting to pro tennis. People numbers. Cash numbers. Even before Title IX pressure forced the issue, Jarrett jumped into women's basketball. "People around here laughed, but nobody could tell me the women wouldn't draw," Jarrett says.

ODU was the first school in Virginia to give athletic scholarships to women. In 1974 there were two scholarships in basketball; this year there will be the equivalent of 12. In 1974 the women's basketball budget was $9,000; this year ODU will spend more than $150,000 on the women.

Along with this development came a semimerging of the men's and women's programs, a concept that has fostered compatibility in an area where angels of both sexes had previously feared to tread. Not to mention coaches. At ODU the men's and women's teams share the training room. They share the radio-TV package. They share the preseason kickoff banquet. They live in the same dormitory apartment building. They regularly played in doubleheaders at the Scope, Norfolk's $50-million gem of a complex.

The women's fame has made recruiting easier for the men. Everybody knows who Old Dominion is now. Assistant men's Coach Mike Pollio even speaks of a "combined record," as in "We were 58-8 last year, the best record in the nation...combined."

"This situation may seem unique to most schools," says Webb, "but it shouldn't be. Folks should get along. This is the way things are supposed to be." In the next breath Webb says, "Of course, you must remember that the No. 1 sport at ODU is men's basketball. Without question."

Except one. In Jarrett's memento-swamped office there are two pictures on the wall behind his desk. One is of the ODU mascot, "Big Blue," a kid in a lion suit, and the other is of Jarrett and TV announcer Jayne Kennedy, who as any fool can plainly see is a woman. Where are the men?

Last season 500 people stood on line in the rain waiting for tickets to watch the UCLA and ODU women's teams—the once and future AIWA champions—play in the campus gym. ODU won 90-60. Nancy Lieberman scored 29 points. And the game grossed more than $20,000. This season Jarrett raised the price of women's season tickets 250%—from $10 to $35. The public responded by buying 1,000, 800 more than last year. The Lady Monarchs have become so profitable on their own that ODU fans will no longer be able to see both the men and the women on the same bill; the school was losing money on that deal.

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