Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Bit of History As We Celebrate The Final Four

I'm back- I had been editing another website for the last several months, so I've been delinquent in my postings...

Here is a piece I wrote that puts the 25th anniversary of the NCAA Final Four in historical perspective.


The NCAA has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the women’s college basketball tournament over the last several months leading up to the April 4 championship game. During televised games on ESPN,(which is televising all games of the tournament) the network has been counting down the top 25 moments in the history of the championships. Looking at those moments a person could think that organized women’s basketball didn’t exist prior to 25 years ago when only the final game was televised.

But that is not the case. There were women’s championships in basketball and 19 other women's sports run by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) an organization that was virtually run out of existence by the NCAA when it decided to create women’s championships to parallel the mens. That the NCAA wanted to be involved in women’s sports at all -- let alone run them-- is ironic because less than a decade earlier the NCAA was dead set against the expansion of women’s sports in the wake of the passage of Title IX.

When Title IX was passed in 1972 the NCAA along with many other organizations were at first indifferent because they didn’t believe it would effect them -- it was just a little law created to increase women’s opportunities in education. When it quickly became clear that Title IX would effect athletics, the NCAA began to diligently work its members and its political capital to derail Title IX making sure it would not have any detrimental effects of men’s sports especially -- especially the sacred cow of football.

The birth of the second wave of the women's movement and the civil rights movement created a climate for change, and women's sports advocates took advantage of the changing times and created AIAW in 1970 to organize and run women’s championships in a variety of sports. In 1970 it was easy for women to have control because women’s sports just didn’t matter to the male sports world. At that time most schools had a separate men’s and women’s athletic departments and the women’s department had little money, no scholarships and were treated poorly if they got any attention at all.

AIAW was a huge success and by 1979 it had almost 1,000 school as members. The organization was so successful that it negotiated a TV contract with NBC to televise its championships beginning in 1979 for 1 million dollars.

While the NCAA never was supportive of women’s sports, it saw the AIAW TV contract as a sign that they could make money off of women's sports, and in 1979 voted to offer championships for Division 2 and 3; and then in 1980 voted to offer championships in Division 1. That was beginning of the end of AIAW. The NCAA decimated AIAW by offering financial incentives for schools to join the NCAA, and AIAW could not compete. To add insult to injury, the decision makers in the athletic departments were now mostly men as one of the unforeseen and most disturbing consequences of Title IX was the merging of the men’s and women’s athletic departments. As more opportunities were opened for student athletes, women administrators and coaches lost their autonomy and many of them their positions when the departments merged. Member schools quickly switched to the NCAA and once the best teams were lost, the TV contract was pulled and the AIAW was virtually out of business.

So as you watch the great players in the final four this weekend and the announcer counts down the top moments of the history of the championship, just remember the women of AIAW whose hard work made these championships possible.

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