Athletic scholarships to women at the nation's major colleges have increased more than 140 percent since 1991-92, more than twice the rate of increase in aid for men over the same period, according to a gender equity report released today by the NCAA.

The report for the 1997-98 school year shows men received 59 percent of the scholarship money at Division I schools, but the gap has continued to narrow since the first survey in 1992, when men had a 69-31 advantage and another report in 1996 that showed a 62-38 advantage for men.

"As we move closer to proportionality, we recognize improvements will not be as dramatic. At the same time, we must do better," NCAA President Cedric Dempsey said.

Male athletes received an average of $1,320,688 in scholarships per school, but the bulk of that amount was for football ($939,606), which has no comparable expenditure for women.

Women, however, received more scholarship money than men in Division I basketball, fencing, golf, gymnastics, skiing, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, track and field and cross-country.

The number of women competing in Division I sports rose to 40 percent of the total number of athletes, up from 37 percent in 1996 and 31 percent in 1992.

"The good news is that we have seen a nine-percentage-point improvement in women's participation in the last seven years," Dempsey said. "But the bad news is that we have only seen a nine-percentage-point improvement."

The average number of athletes at Division I schools in 1997-98 was 241 men and 158 women, compared with 250 men and 112 women in the first report. For Division II, the average number of male participants dropped from 167 per school to 159, while the number of females increased from 79 to 95. In Division III, the average number of male athletes dropped from 216 to 199 while the number of women rose from 116 to 132 per school.

"We've made some progress but must continue to press for compliance," Dempsey said. "We must do a better job of increasing the rate of growth for participation by women and the amount of resources dedicated to women."

Football and men's basketball brought in 48 percent of the $9.7 million revenue and accounted for 81 percent of athletic operating expenditures at Division I schools in 1997-98, although in each division females now receive a higher proportion of scholarship dollars than their proportion within the total population of athletes.

Seventy percent of recruiting expenses in Division I were directed to men's programs, down 3 percent from the previous survey, and 60 percent of the head coaches salaries were for men's sports, the same as the 1995-96 report. Overall, however, salaries for men's Division I head coaches rose an average of 49 percent since 1991-92, compared with a rise of 81 percent for women's coaches.

The average head coaching salary in Division I basketball was $120,857 for men and $74,187 for women. For the largest schools, Division I-A, the average salaries were $164,927 for men and $100,235 for women.

The average salary for a head football coach in Division I-A was $195,057, up from $141,624 in the previous study. In Division I-AA, the average salary for a head football coach was $71,311; for a men's basketball coach, $88,439; and for a women's basketball coach, $56,377.