"We may die," said Ann Uhlir, executive director of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). "But we are not going to roll over and play dead. The fight has become very one-sided, but we are not giving up."
It has been exactly one month since a series of actions taken at the annual convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in Miami abruptly signaled an end to the fledgling AIAW's control of women's intercollegiate sports.While the athletic world views the pros and cons of those actions with less than unanimity, there is general agreement that their effect on college sports for women will be profound.
To the AIAW, the 10-year-old organization that served as midwife and wet nurse during the birth and infancy of the dramatic expansion in women's athletics since 1970, the entry of the powerful NCAA into women's college athletics means a fundamental change in their character. The AIAW says it will mean high-powered recruiting, high-stakes championships, dramatically increased costs, a deemphasis on the athletes' academic responsibilities and, inevitably, the types of abuses and corner-cutting that have characterized some of the men's sports programs.
Nonsense, says the NCAA. Bringing women's sports under the NCAA umbrella can only be in the best interests of the women athletes, its proponents argue.In their view, the NCAA can offer women's sports greater visibility, and with visibility will come greater public acceptance. There will be increased professional opportunities for women under the NCAA aegis, it is said, and, besides, in this enlightened age it no longer makes sense, according to NCAA supporters, to have separate organizations for men's and women's athletics.
At one level, the NCAA actions in Miami seem innocuous, possibly even helpful to the cause of women's athletics: inclusion of women on its council, its executive committee and on all its smaller committees and establishment of 29 women's national championship competitions.
But there are those within the AIAW who fear establishment of NCAA women's championships, beginning next fall, will quickly consign their own championship contests to second-class status. NCAA rules, they note, allow greater flexibility in recruiting -- they permit off-campus visits, for example, where AIAW rules do not -- making it likely that institutions going the NCAA route will attract the top athletes. Eventually, they say, there is a likelihood of wholesale defections to the NCAA by the AIAW's 960 member institutions.
And they argue that inclusion of women on the NCAA committees is tokenism at best, since the committees always will be dominated by men.
"What we have is a multiple rules system," said Donna Lopiano, director of women's athletics at the University of Texas and the president of the AIAW. "It's created chaos and it's thrown most of our women's athletic directors into panic. Everyone's working on schedules for next year. Now we don't know what rules our traditional opponents are going to be following, ours or the NCAA's. That makes it difficult to schedule any games."
AIAW, Lopiano said, is in the process of sending its members of a lengthy communication informing them that, for the time being, the association will be conducting business as usual.
"We fully intend to explore all possible actions, including legal actions, to protect the competitive integrity of our programs," said Lopiano. Already, she continued, all member institutions have been reminded that they remain under AIAW rules. Violations will mean imposition of sanctions this year, not next, she said, just in case anyone's thinking a jump to the NCAA next year means the equivalent of a blank check from the AIAW now. The association will continue to offer its 40 championship events.
Lee Morrison, associate director for women's sports at Virginia's James Madison University, thinks it will probably be a year or so before AIAW feels the full impact of the NCAA actions.
"I think a lot of schools will choose to follow AIAW regulations for the next couple of years just to see what is happening," she said. "They will sit on the fence for a while to see which way to jump."
"But there are many of us who have said we think this will diminish the AIAW. It could mean the demise of the AIAW. That would be unfortunate, because I think we have been a positive influence on the athletic scene. I think we have offered some alternative options for women's athletics, for nonrevenue sports and for men's athletics that will not be possible if the NCAA is running a monopoly."
It is ironic, said Sharon Taylor, associate director of athletics at Pennsylvania's Lock Haven State College, that the AIAW came into being, in part, because the NCAA did not offer championship programs in women's sports during the early 1970s, when the women's sports movement was just getting off the ground.
During the early and mid-1970s, she said, as Title IX was mandating increased opportunities for women in sports, it was the AIAW that was promoting the cause of women athletes, frequently in direct opposition to the policies of the NCAA.
"How can the NCAA speak with any credibility for the women's programs?" she said.
A field-hockey coach, Taylor said she has informed all of her team's opponents for next year that if they are going to recruit players under the NCAA rules, "our contracts will be considered null and void."
Nevertheless, she said, it is likely that only a small group of defections to the NCAA will be sufficient to start a full-scale exodus from AIAW.
The NCAA has tentatively scheduled women's national field-hockey championships for the third weekend of next November, with regional play the preceding weekend. Volleyball national championships will be Dec. 18-19 and cross country is tentatively set for Nov. 23.
Ruth Berkey, director of women's championships for the NCAA, says she's totally committed to the NCAA women's programs, which she describes as in the best interests of women's athletics.
"I don't believe in having to have separate programs on the basis of sex," she said. "Men and women can function together in other areas. There is no reason why they can't do it in sports."
Tom Blackburn, dean at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, says, "I share with many others the sense that we do need a single enlightened governing agency to monitor intercollegiate athletics."
But Blackburn, a vocal supporter of AIAW, says he questions whether the NCAA fits that role.
"AIAW seemed to be building the kind of athletic program that might not suffer from the same mistakes the men have gotten into," he said.
"It offered unique opportunities for women to gain experience in leadership in athletics. But it will be very difficult for AIAW to continue in its present shape for very long.
"The NCAA has greater financial resources and greater control of media exposure. If significant numbers of institutions opt to go into the NCAA championships and apply the NCAA rules, it will be very difficult for AIAW to sponsor any championships at all."