The message that the NCAA membership gave to its leadership last year-pull back on Title Nine and women's sports-resulted in an amazing situation at this year's annual NCAA Convention. Women's issues, once the most controversial topic within the organization, were almost ignored.
The only proposal dealing with women's sports on an agenda of more than 200 items called for the establishment of a permanent committee to act as liaison with the women's NCAA counterpart, the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for the Women (AIAW).
But the NCAA leadership stopped pushing for legislation that would have established women's championships in a small number of sports as part of a model program. Nor was any legislation proposed for member institutions to run men's and women's programs with identical (i.e. NCAA) rules.
Those proposals appalled delegates at last year's convention. They argued that the NCAA should not be involved in such areas before the full ramifications of Title Nine became known. They refused even to vote on the items, saying they could be viewed by women as the NCAA's way of declaring war on the AIAW. And most schools weren't about to do that.
There were no war threats this year. About the only time women were mentioned on the convention floor at Miami Beach was when some delegate pleaded with "any women in attendance" not to make the same dreadful mistake the speaker believed the men are committing.
The only aggressive step the NCAA took in the women's area in the last years was to sue the Department of Housing. Education and Welfare, challenging HEW's interpretation and administration of Title Nine. AIAW since has joined HEW in fighting the suit, new pending in a Kansas federal district court.
The NCAA is asking the court to rule that Title Nine's implementing regulations are illegal and to toss them out.
In filing the suit however, the NCAA was careful to point out that the litigation is not an "act of hostility" toward women's athletics but rather the only available avenue to obtain "valid rulings so that member institutions can proceed with their planing in the best interests of all their students."
Many women's sports administrators view the lawsuit differently, especially those who feel it is the NCAA's way of handling the so-called "AIAW problem."
"We are trying to find out what Title Nine really means," said Tom Hansen, an NCAA assistant executive director. "Until the court case is decided, things are pretty much at a standstill."
The NCAA is hoping the court will find that Title Nine does not extend to intercollegiate athletics and that HEW extended improperly the scope of the law to include programs which do not receive federal financial assistance.
Until the court rules, the NCAA is letting Title Nine problems be worked out on the local school level. Colleges are being left to determine on their own how to implement Title Nine requirements, and how to deal with AIAW.
The only official major contact between the AIAW and NCAA in the past was a meeting over inconsistent rules governing the two organizations.
"No specific actions came out of the meeting," said Edward Betz, who chairs the NCAA committee. "But I think there was a greater understanding developed at the meeting, and it should pave the way for future progress."
NCAA leaders are convinced that major women's legislation will be proposed to the convention in future years, especially in the area of rules.
Currently, the NCAA and the AIAW have varying rules in such areas as transfers and scope of grants-in-aid. NCAA officials are convinced that the differences could be challenged in court by an athlete on the basis of the 14th Amendment.
"I'm just amazed that our rules haven't been challenged by either men or women under the equal-protection clause," said one NCAA official who has been closely involved in Title Nine affairs.
"Take the transfer rule, for example. Under AIAW rules, a woman athlete can transfer and play immediately the next year at her new school. Under NCAA rules, the male athlete has to sit out a year before being eligible.
"Or look at grants. One guy gets a full basketball scholarship from a school that inculdes books, room and board, everything. All his sisters can get under AIAW rules from the same school for playing basketball is tuition and fees.
"That's not equal treatment. We are just living with a power keg that's going to explode."
Until that explosion, however, NCAA members feel they are making steady progress with women's sports on most campuses. And until the NCAA suit against HEW is settled, they apparently want things left that way.