After 40 Years, Challenges Remain for Women's Sports
Issue   |   Wed, 02/22/2017 - 02:29
Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios
Although a few of the differences between men’s and women’s sports are especially pronounced at Amherst, most are part of nationwide trends in college athletics. Women’s teams have been playing catch-up ever since Title IX was passed in 1972, and the obstacles can be much greater at schools with fewer resources than Amherst.

In fall 1975, as the first women arrived on Amherst’s campus for orientation, the student coach for men’s crew was recruiting novices to join the team. In an effort to fill more boats, he decided to hang flyers in women’s dorms as well as men’s.

“That kind of kicked off the athletic program for women,” said Professor of Physical Education Michelle Morgan, who arrived at Amherst a few years later in 1978.

The next spring, a four-woman boat beat Syracuse in Amherst’s first women’s intercollegiate competition. In the fall of 1976, the first women’s teams in field hockey, basketball, squash and swimming were formed. As the women’s program grew, teams sometimes encountered obstacles in getting new equipment or practice times.

“For example, in the golf program, the women used to wear the men’s hand-me-down shirts,” Morgan said.

Much has changed over the past four decades, but some challenges remain for women athletes. Fundraising for women’s teams is still more difficult than fundraising for men’s teams, and ensuring a fair distribution of resources is always a delicate balancing act for an athletic department that spends more than $600,000 a year on football. Women’s teams also tend to have smaller roster sizes, fewer assistant coaches and less money to spend on recruiting.

In interviews, Athletics Department staff said that the smaller size of women’s teams is often a result of complex national trends and differences in game play between similar sports — certain women’s teams tend to be smaller nationwide. Some men’s sports have become more specialized than equivalent women’s sports, which means that they tend to have more players and specialized coaches.

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act requires federally-funded colleges to make public certain data about gender equity in sports, including roster sizes, coaching information and spending. The Amherst Student obtained most of the data in this article from those reports, which are managed by the Department of Education.

Title IX, the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded educational institutions, has various requirements regulating participation opportunities and benefits for men’s and women’s sports. The law does not require Amherst to spend the same amount on men’s and women’s sports, and it does not necessarily require that resources for each team be exactly the same.

Laurie Frankl, the college’s full-time Title IX coordinator, said her job is mostly focused on sexual misconduct, but she addresses Title IX issues when they come up in sports.

“Anyone can come speak to me with the knowledge that they will not and shall not be retaliated against for having their concern brought to me,” Frankl said.

Director of Athletics Don Faulstick oversees gender equity issues on a day-to-day basis if they come up, whether or not they are related to Title IX. For instance, Faulstick recently spearheaded an effort to ensure that all the head coaches for women’s teams had their own offices.

Jen Hughes ’97, the women’s soccer coach, said she also acts as a Title IX liaison for the Athletic Department, but has had to do virtually nothing in that role so far.

President Biddy Martin announced in January that the college will be conducting a Title IX compliance review later this spring.

FUNDRAISING

One of the biggest challenges for women’s teams is fundraising. “There doesn’t seem to be the quantity or magnitude of donations on the women’s side that there seem to be on the men’s side,” Hughes said.

“Many women’s programs have had a harder time being able to fundraise,” said Maria Rello, the Senior Woman Administrator and director of sports medicine. “That’s a frustration. That’s something the department absolutely recognizes, and so we’re trying to figure out ways to try to solve that problem.”

Team budgets are made up of an operations budget sourced from the department and a fundraising budget. Coaches submit their budget requests for team operational expenses such as uniforms, travel and equipment to associate athletic director Gregg Dinardo ’01. Teams can fundraise by hosting clinics, working at other teams’ games, selling gear or soliciting money from parents and alumni. Fundraising differs by team, but can be used to pay for additional expenses such as trips, contributions to assistant coaches’ salaries and banquets.

Through the alumni organization Friends of Amherst Athletics, people can donate to a general fund for athletics or to individual teams. Money from the general fund can be used for women’s sports to even out fundraising discrepancies. Of the 15 alumni representatives on the executive board of Friends of Amherst Athletics, just three are women.

Women’s teams also have a much smaller alumni base to draw on for funds and generally have less success soliciting money from the alumni they have. “Unfortunately, there are still many more wealthy men than there are wealthy women, and so they have a wider network to pull from,” Rello said.

Women’s teams that were added to the athletic program more recently have an even smaller alumni base from which to solicit funds. For example, softball was added in 1996, while baseball has existed at Amherst for more than 150 years.

“Baseball has such a huge history of giving … and they get money like that,” Morgan said. “The softball team has only been a team since the mid ’90s. And so they have to make up that extra money by doing extra fundraising.”

“There’s not the same type of philanthropic giving by women as there are by men,” Morgan said. “That is changing, I think, and we are getting many more female alumni involved in that. Yes, that definitely is an area where we are behind, but that’s historical.”

The athletics department has expanded efforts to connect female athlete alumni with current players in the past few years, introducing mentorship opportunities and other alumnae events.

“Our alumni came to our spring games last year and always come up for Homecoming,” said women’s tennis player Sofia Aisiks ’19. “We do team bonding with the alumni, which is something I always look forward to.”

Fundraising is particularly important for teams like baseball and softball to raise money for spring break trips. Such trips are a necessity due to cold and snowy New England weather and comprise a substantial portion of both teams' games. Both baseball and softball have to pay several hundred dollars out of pocket for their spring trips, and the rest is covered by fundraising.

Faulstick said he tries to make sure that all teams who go on spring break trips pay equitable amounts. Some teams try to ease the burden on players by decreasing travel.

“We work hard to solicit donations to help defray spring break costs so as not to have our athletes have to fundraise or pay too much out of pocket for our spring trip,” women’s lacrosse coach Chris Paradis wrote in an email. “We also only fly south every other year in order to not have this yearly financial burden.” This year, women’s lacrosse players will spend most of their spring break on campus.

Teams can also take international trips oriented towards education and cultural immersion, if they have the funds. In June 2014, the men’s soccer team toured France, and the baseball team traveled to Japan two months later. In August 2015, the men’s basketball team traveled to Italy. However, women’s teams have not gone on as many comparable trips in recent years. The most recent was the women’s soccer trip to Spain and Monaco in 2008.

ROSTER SIZES

According to Department of Education data from 2015, Amherst had 79 more male athletes than female athletes — 57 percent of athletes are male, and 43 percent are female.

With 76 players, far more than any women’s team, football accounts for the largest discrepancy in roster sizes between genders. In particular, high-profile men’s teams tend to have larger roster sizes than their women’s team counterparts. Coaches have explained roster differences as stemming largely from differences in game play, different regulations on size and the size of a team’s impact on chemistry.

For example, the men’s lacrosse team has 46 players, while women’s lacrosse has 26. According to Faulstick, this is part of a nationwide trend in men’s lacrosse — increasing specialization and changing playing tactics have drastically increased roster sizes. In the 2016 report “The Place of Athletics at Amherst College,” the Department of Athletics also referenced a higher frequency of injuries in lacrosse as a reason for the larger roster sizes. Women’s lacrosse coach Christine Paradis cited NESCAC squad limits as the primary reason for the team’s smaller roster size.

The smaller roster size trend for women’s sports continues with soccer and basketball — sports that are comparable across genders. In 2015, men’s soccer fielded 28 players to the women’s 25, and men’s basketball had 17 players to the women’s 12. Women’s soccer coach Hughes pointed to NCAA limits on how many players can suit up during the tournament as influencing roster sizes choices. Hughes said having too many players can cause problems for team chemistry. Women’s basketball coach G. P. Gromacki said that he did not prefer over 14 players on the roster.

The baseball roster exceeds softball with 33 players to softball’s 19. Softball coach Jessica Johnson said that softball teams are usually smaller than baseball teams because baseball is a different sport and requires more pitchers. Johnson also said that she prefers to keep her roster below 20 players, because the NCAA only allows 20 players to participate in the postseason.

Despite the addition of two women’s teams in the 1990s, softball and ice hockey, “[football] does throw off the participation numbers,” Faulstick said. There remain “certain things that we just [have to] continue to be aware of because of that,” he added.

Many of these disparities are symptomatic of larger nationwide trends and historical realities. Most other NESCAC schools have similar gender proportions in athletics.

The college’s report on the state of Amherst athletics said that some sports, like men’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s track, have increased their roster sizes in recent years.

“It should be noted, however, that neither expansion led to greater gender equity among athletes, and thus did not accomplish the goal of bringing the college into closer alignment with Title IX requirements,” the report said. One way of assessing Title IX compliance is proportionality — that the ratio of women to men athletes is roughly in line with the gender ratio of the general student body.

The authors of the report made a strong recommendation that the college stop increasing roster sizes for sports teams.

ASSISTANT COACHES

Women’s teams also tend to have fewer assistant coaches than men’s teams. Last year, men’s teams had 31 assistant coaches, while women’s teams had 20. Much of the difference can be explained by football, which has eight assistant coaches — three of whom are full-time employees.

Faulstick said that sports with larger rosters, like football, often have more coaches. Football is also one of several men’s sports that have specialized coaching positions — for instance, an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator.

Additionally, some assistant coach positions are funded with a combination of Athletic Department money and money from fundraising, which means that paying for assistant coaches is more challenging for certain teams.

“When you don’t have fully funded programs and you have to raise money to offset the budget stuff, that’s where it gets tricky,” Faulstick said.

“I do see some inconsistencies,” Rello said. “It’s not a matter of putting more importance on one program or the other. It’s just sometimes, we’ve had turnover that we haven’t been able to replace.”

Some differences are lingering products of historical differences between men’s and women’s teams. For example, six years ago, the college separated the men’s and women’s track and cross country programs, hiring a full-time head coach for the women’s team. But the result was that the women’s team had fewer assistant coaches. This year, the college hired another assistant coach for the women’s team, using funds from the dean of the faculty’s office intended to increase diversity among coaching staff.

“There’s progress,” Rello said. “We just need to finish it.”

Coaching has historically been a male-dominated field, and fewer than half of Amherst coaches are women, although college data shows that a majority of the coaches for women’s teams are women. Women of color are especially underrepresented, and nearly three-quarters of Amherst athletes are white.

The average salary for women’s assistant coaches is also much lower than the average for men’s. Last year, women’s assistant coaches made an average of $12,826 per year, while men’s assistant coaches made an average of $17,880.

Faulstick said that football explains a large part of the discrepancy. The full-time football assistant coaches are benefited positions and make more than the average part-time assistant.

“And then you have certain assistant coaches — they’ve been here longer, they potentially could make more money,” Faulstick said.

One team, women’s golf, has a head coach who is considered a part-time employee. Michelle Morgan coached the team until spring 2015, when she entered phased retirement. After Morgan stopped coaching, there was no full-time position available to coach women’s golf, so the team had to look for applicants willing to take on the head coach position as a part-time job. Mike Valentine ’05 coached the team for a year before leaving the college, and in spring 2016 the team finally found Elizabeth Davis to fill the role.

“It felt ridiculous that men’s golf would have two coaches and we couldn’t find one,” said Sarah Ressler ’16, a former captain of the women’s team. “I think we all felt, in the process of trying to hire a head coach last year, that we were being put in a position men’s golf would never have to be in.”

On the men’s side, Jack Arena ’83 does double duty as head coach of men’s golf and men’s ice hockey, while football coach E.J. Mills serves as an assistant.

“I think it’s unfair to suggest that that is entirely a gender issue,” Ressler added. “There’s definitely a hierarchy of sports within the Amherst athletic department, and golf is closer to the bottom of that hierarchy.”

“The college is determining hiring priorities, and has not yet determined if it will hire a head golf coach,” Faulstick wrote in an email. Adding full-time equivalent positions is a complex process that requires input from the board of trustees.

FOOTBALL

Like many colleges, Amherst devotes more resources to football than to any other sport. In 2015 the college reported spending $2,547,342 in expenses for men’s sports and $2,032,187 for women’s — a half-million dollar difference. Virtually all of this difference can be explained by the $639,614 directed toward football.

That number is almost double the amount spent on the team with the second largest expenses, men’s basketball.

Amherst is not unique in pouring such a large proportion of its resources into football, but the college does spend more on football than the majority of other NESCAC schools.

Football also has a strong presence in the athletic department leadership. Friends of Amherst Athletics president Rick Murphy ’73 is a football alum, and Faulstick used to be an assistant football and head softball coach.

There has long been a nationwide debate about whether the disproportionate influence of football poses a problem for gender equity.

Pat Griffin, a professor emerita at UMass Amherst and advocate for LGBTQ and women athletes, argued that football does present an equity issue. “If all alumni care about is men’s football … they put enormous pressure on the leadership of the college and the athletic department to fund those programs,” she said.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” Faulstick said. “Schools that have football need to continue to really stay on track with everything else and make sure that all the students are getting exactly what they deserve.”

This means resizing budgets and allocating alumni donations to teams — often women’s — that receive fewer alumni donations. In the past, Faulstick has even cut off certain men’s teams from fundraising after they raised a large amount of money.

“Coaches know that just because you’re able to raise money, doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want with the money,” he said.

RECRUITING

Recruiting expenses also differ greatly between men’s and women’s teams. Department of Education data show that last year, the college spent $32,657 recruiting for men’s teams but only $14,506 on women’s teams.

Faulstick said some men’s teams use expensive recruiting services to find players, which makes up a large part of the difference. He did not respond to requests to specify which teams use recruiting services.

“Recruiting practices vary from sport to sport and coach to coach,” Faulstick said. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ model.”

Many teams recruit players with camps and clinics on Amherst’s campus, and coaches can also travel across the country to recruit players at major competitions. For example, Hughes said that women’s soccer will host four clinics each calendar year and that she typically travels to tournaments in places such as Florida, Virginia and New Jersey.

Each team has a separate recruiting budget, and coaches can request more funding on a case-by-case basis. Hughes said the department has never turned down her requests for additional recruiting money.

The most recent government data on college recruiting show that Williams, Colby and Hamilton all spent more on recruiting for women’s sports than men’s in 2014. Trinity spent about the same amount on men’s and women’s programs. All other NESCAC schools spent more recruiting for men’s sports.

As of Tuesday evening, the athletic directors of Williams and Colby had not responded to inquiries from The Student about their recruitment spending.

Faulstick said the department has requested more money in its recruiting budget for next year to help offset the gender gap.

Although a few of the differences between men’s and women’s sports are especially pronounced at Amherst, most are part of nationwide trends in college athletics. Women’s teams have been playing catch-up ever since Title IX was passed in 1972, and the obstacles can be much greater at schools with fewer resources than Amherst.

“We are trying really hard to figure out all the little pieces that go into that and how we can help to work collaboratively and make things really equitable for everybody,” Rello said. “There aren’t easy answers, but it’s something that Don, Gregg and I are incredibly invested in.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the age of the Amherst College baseball team. Amherst College played in the first ever intercollegiate baseball game in 1859, which means that the program is 158 years old as of 2017.

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