[an error occurred while processing this directive] Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

A Fight to the Death: NCAA vs. AIAW

Lauren Holway

Women have faced an uphill battle throughout the history of sports whether it is to be able to compete in sports, to attain equal funding for programs, to have access to facilities, or a number of other obstacles that have been thrown in their ways. Women have had to organize and administer their own sports structure rather than compete within the men's structure that existed. The sheer strength and determination of many women sports heroes is what propels women's sport to keep going. One theme that has predominantly surfaced in this fight though is the merging of women's programs with men's, oftentimes only when they are successful enough to stand alone on their own.

When female athletes wanted to participate in tournaments and intercollegiate play they had to form their own league, since the NCAA would not accept women's teams. Many women fought long and hard in order to form the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1972, and even harder to make it the successful league it eventually became. The AIAW gained corporate sponsors and television coverage of their national championship and also catapulted women's basketball into the forefront of athletics worldwide. In 1976, just four years after the formation of the AIAW, women's basketball debuted at the Olympics. At the end of its reign the AIAW had created 42 national championships and moved from a 276 charter member institution into an organization consisting of 971 institutional members (Hult).

In 1979 Title IX was passed, giving female athletes a huge step towards achieving their goals but possibly giving the AIAW it's defeating blow. With the passage of Title IX came funding for women's sports that was not present prior to this. Suddenly women's athletics were more than just a game, they were profitable sports and men took note of this. Most educational institutions merged their men's and women's physical education and athletic departments. Since this new athletic department had twice the staff that was needed, women athletic director and administrators were sent down to secondary positions. Men were now controlling women's athletics, one domain where women had ruled for the past decade.

Male coaches weren't the only ones to notice the potential profit included in women's athletics; the NCAA began to make serious offers to AIAW about merging. Because the NCAA had not prior to this considered the AIAW an equal until women's athletics had potential for television contracts and national championships, the AIAW refused these offers. The NCAA began to make offers to colleges, such as if a college's men's team was already enrolled in the NCAA then their women's team could enroll for free for the first year. This method was very successful for taking schools away from the AIAW. Eventually the AIAW put all of their money into a lawsuit against the NCAA, but they were unsuccessful, resulting in a merger between then AIAW and the NCAA. The social costs of this merger seemed very large to many women, mainly because of the loss of control. Women's athletics went from being almost completely controlled by women, both in administrative and coaching positions, to being another field where men were dominant over women. This wrong still hasn't been righted, since female coaches are at an all-time low. How could this possibly benefit women?

There was a silver lining to this though; the AIAW accomplished a lot for women in its ten years as an organization. Though it was falling to a men's institution it had achieved its goal of making women's athletics equal to men's. When the NCAA took over, athletic scholarships for women increased. The AIAW felt that maintaining that each athlete was a student first and foremost was their main concern, and this disappointed many young women who hoped to obtain a sport scholarship to go to college. The NCAA put pressure on the AIAW and scholarships started to become available to women. Though the AIAW had accomplished much change on it's own, I feel that it was the pressure that the NCAA put on that really got men's and women's athletics on the same page.

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