Declaring that their organization's very existence is threatened, delegates to the convention of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women here expressed outrage yesterday at plans by their corresponding men's group to begin some championships in women's sports.
Meeting almost 1,000 miles away in New Orleans, the National Collegiate Athletic Association voted to begin championships in five sports for women in its Division II and III member schools.
There were gasps from some of the delegates when AIAW President Carole L. Mushier informed them of the NCAA's action, one that the women had lobbied against in telephone calls to New Orleans only hours earlier.
An NCAA spokesman said the Division II and III institutions, the smaller schools, voted overwhelmingly to begin the championships during the 1981-82 school year in field hockey, volleyball, basketball, swimming and tennis.
An attempt by Division I schools, the larger colleges, to block the move for financial reasons -- the NCAA pays championship costs for teams -- failed by a wide margin, the spokesman said.
The net effect of the NCAA action could be the withdrawal of some colleges from AIAW membership and fewer championship events for some schools, since they would not be able to participate in AIAW championship events because of conflicting rules.
Colleges may have to decide whether they want their female athletes to play in the AIAW or in the NCAA. Since the AIAW currently offers its 900 member schools 35 championships in 17 sports, any reduction in athletic opportunities for women could cause Title 9 compliance problems.
Nothing precludes a college from belonging to both the NCAA and the AIAW. But membership in both organizations is by the total program and not by the sport.
Thus, a college that opts for the five NCAA championships could not participate in the AIAW championships in the non-NCAA sports.
"The problem comes when an institution seeks to apply rules or regulations, then the entire program would be ineligible for AIAW competition," Mushier said.
Some of the men's rules -- such as on renewal of financial aid, transfers and academic standards -- vary from the AIAW's.
A spokeswoman for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare -- which is responsible for enforcing the antibias law in school sports -- declined comment.
After announcing the NCAA's action, Mushier told the AIAW delegates, "My position right now is an unenviable one. This is not panic time (although) it was something we always thought would never come.
"We can no longer sit back. If we want our program we must fight for it together. We are all in this together. This is not just a Division II or III issue. We have many possibilities to pursue for possible action."
Chris Grant, AIAW president-elect, was applauded loudly when she said, "This is an outrage. To be brief, the preservation of our organization is at stake. If we want to retain the present organization, we've got to fight -- all of us. I don't know about you, but I'm fighting fit and I'm going to battle this."
Charlotte West, immediate past president, said, "I'm stunned, angered and hurt. My sense of what is right makes me think this should not have happened. I'm not a quitter and I know you're not . . . so let's regroup and go get 'em."
"We still have another (1981) NCAA and AIAW convention to go before this could be implemented," Mushier said.
In a specially called, packed session to discuss the developments, delegates suggested last night everything from lobbying college presidents, alumni and congress to economic boycotts of commercial sponsors of NCAA events.
Although there was no specific discussion of what actions may be taken by the AIAW, there was informal talk of an antitrust suit against the NCAA and of possible Title 9 complaints filed by individuals against their schools.
Should the divisions II and III championship plans remain intact, many of the women fear that Division I events will soon follow.
Since many athletic directors have long wanted their male and female athletes to play under one umbrella organization with one set of rules, several women said they were afraid the AIAW might be dissolved -- particularly if there are Division I NCAA championships for women.
In other action yesterday, the convention approved a new transfer rule. Under it, a transferring student may not play or receive financial aid based on athletic ability until she completes a year of normal progress at her new college. (Under the old rules, she could play, but receive no aid.)
However, if the transferring student informs her college in writing by the first Monday in March of her intention to transfer, she may transfer and play immediately but not receive aid for a year.
Also, her old college is not obligated to renew her aid if she fails to transfer. A student who transfers to a college that does not offer aid may play immediately.
Old Dominion senior Nancy Leiberman won the Broderick Cup as the outstanding athlete of the year by the delegates yesterday. A member of the 1976 women's Olympic basketball team and last summer's Pan Am team, Lieberman averaged 17.4 points per game, 7.7 rebounds and totaled 254 assists last year.