NOT O.K., OKLAHOMA
While being introduced before their NCAA women's basketball final against Stanford on Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn. (page 48), Auburn players carried symbolic red ribbons. They were protesting the University of Oklahoma's unexpected—and shameful—decision to drop women's basketball. "It feels like a major slap in the face and a major step backward [for women's sports]," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who wore a red ribbon on her shirt. "It's something very, very hard to understand."
Oklahoma officials said that their women's basketball team, which went 7-22 and drew an average of only 206 fans per home game this season, simply wasn't worth the cost. According to Don Jimerson, the assistant athletic director who oversees women's athletics, the basketball program was eating up nearly a quarter of the school's annual $1.3 million women's sports budget. He said that the basketball funds will be reallocated to other women's sports programs, including a planned women's soccer team.
But consider the numbers for a minute. The $1.3 million that Oklahoma spends on women's sports makes up less than 10% of its total athletic-department budget of $15.4 million. The school spends several million dollars on football and it can't even run an honest program; the Sooners are in the second year of a three-year NCAA probation for recruiting and rules violations. That probation is costing the athletic department an estimated $750,000 to $1 million a year in lost bowl and television revenue.
"It seems to me that the University of Oklahoma has some serious Title IX problems," said attorney Ellen Vargyas of the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. "There are significantly more opportunities for male athletes than for women athletes at OU." Vargyas believes that women athletes could win a broadly based Title IX suit against the university, and certainly would win one demanding that women's basketball be revived. Title IX guidelines specify that in sports such as basketball, if a school has a men's team, it must also field a women's team if women at the school both want one and are able to field a viable team. The Sooners' women's team is emphatically viable—it had nine straight winning seasons before going 11-16 in 1988-89—and at least a couple of players are considering suing.
Astoundingly, some state and university officials were puzzled by last week's uproar. Among the confused was Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon, who told The Tulsa Tribune, "They'll still have intramural basketball, won't they? We have never had total equality in women's athletics, and I don't know that we ever will have.... There is no women's baseball or women's wrestling. I have heard of women's mud wrestling."
"How in the world can you justify taking the program away from kids based on attendance?" asked Louisiana Tech women's coach Leon Barmore. Indeed, college athletic programs are supposed to exist not to pack bleachers and churn out revenue, but to give students another type of educational opportunity—the chance to develop their athletic talents at the highest level. As for the lack of fan support, Oklahoma could pull in larger crowds if it tried hard enough. "If an institution gets a good coach and markets its women's basketball program, the program can pay the majority of its way," says women's athletic director Donna Lopiano of Texas. "We do it. Tennessee does it. It takes a commitment on the part of the university." Oklahoma, where is your commitment?
SUMS IT UP
Considering how often men's sports programs gobble up athletic department funds to the detriment of women's teams, the University of Arkansas at Monticello may have the most truthful nicknames in college sports. Its women's teams are known as the Cotton Blossoms. Its men's teams are the Boll Weevils.
No team has endured more oddball injuries in recent years than the Atlanta Braves. In 1982 outfielder Terry Harper dislocated his shoulder while standing on deck vigorously waving a runner home from third base. In 1984 infielder Randy Johnson dislocated his thumb while pulling up his socks.