It pays to be an athlete and a man at North Idaho College.
Men have more opportunities to play sports, they get more athletic scholarships, and are more likely to get their beds and books paid for by the booster club.
That’s at a college where most of the students are women, 20 years after NIC led the region in promoting and funding women’s sports.
The inequities show up in a review of the college’s athletic budgets. The role of athletics at NIC is now being examined by a special committee.
Despite its reputation for having one of the strongest women’s programs in the region, NIC fails an equity test established by the courts in a 1983 case spawned by similar problems at Washington State University.
That test requires that the opportunity to participate in varsity sports and number of athletic scholarships mirrors the ratio of women to men on campus.
NIC’s situation isn’t unusual, however. Few colleges and universities have achieved parity for their women athletes.
Some women athletes at NIC suspect they do not have the same opportunities as men, but the disparities aren’t as profound as in the past. And few students ever question the situation.
A breakdown of athletic spending and participation favors men in several areas:
Six out of 10 NIC students are women, but they get a little more than a third of the athletic funding.
Men have one more varsity sport than women. In addition to track, cross-country and basketball, men have baseball and wrestling, while women have volleyball.
Men’s sport teams spent $26,000 more in travel last year than women’s teams.
The NIC booster club helps more men with rent, books and board than women. Of $30,165 given to students living off campus last year, four women split $3,830 and 20 men got the rest.
Last year, men got 65 percent of the $250,000 in tuition and fee waivers spent on varsity athletes.
“The numbers are totally askew,” said Linda Mangel, an attorney with the Northwest Women’s Law Center in Seattle, an organization that represents women in equity issues. “That’s against the law.”
Despite NIC’s inequities, athletic directors around the Scenic West Conference credit the college with having one of the best women’s programs in the region.
“NIC along with Ricks College and College of Southern Idaho are probably the schools that are trying to fit into compliance and make sure it’s equitable,” said Sherry Titus, the former women’s regional director of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
In the early ‘70s, NIC’s women didn’t have any competition because few other colleges had women’s sports. Consequently, NIC’s female athletes didn’t have scholarships or travel allowances.
One reason that changed was because of faculty like Len Mattei.
“For a while, we were moving strongly toward equity, largely because Title IX was a factor,” Mattei said, referring to a provision of the Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination based on gender.
“I had read all the case law, and was waving my knowledge around in a non-threatening way,” she recalled.
Interest in equity issues has waned in recent years, she said. And NIC’s athletic administrators consider the matter resolved.
“Gender equity is a perceived problem,” said Jim Headley, athletic director. “I’ve never had anyone come up and say women are being discriminated against.”
Track and cross-country coach Mike Bundy said the resources provided for his men’s and women’s teams are the same, but more men choose to participate, he said.
Men’s basketball coach Rolly Williams, who built NIC’s athletic program, turned red in the face when asked about equity, and dismissed it: “This is like beating a dead horse.”
That’s a matter of perspective, said Maralee Foss, the first women’s basketball coach at NIC who is now head of the physical education department - not part of the athletic department.
“I’ve seen drastic changes, but it’s not enough yet,” she said. “He (Williams) thinks there is equity, and there isn’t.”
Student athletes do notice the disparity, she said.
“In our scholarships for the books and stuff … the men usually got more,” said Beth Palmer, a former NIC volleyball player. “They say the men’s sports bring in more money.”
Palmer now attends Seattle Pacific University on a volleyball scholarship.
Kristen Schermerhorn, an NIC sophomore and cross-country runner, said she heard that male athletes get more scholarships and wrestlers stay in nicer motels, but “it never really bothered me that much.”
Though she knows of men in track who have full scholarships, she doesn’t know any women who do.
Athletes have greater opportunities to win tuition and fee waivers than other students at NIC. Men athletes score the most scholarships, because the majority of positions are in men’s teams and the men’s teams are more competitive.
The athletics department has $325,314 in waivers this year, which is 84 percent of the total amount in the college budget.
Athletic director Headley said he directs a greater share of waivers to those sports that need to recruit outside the state.
Wrestling and baseball will get $39,000 a piece and volleyball will get $23,000, because “that’s what I felt they needed to be competitive.”
Headley and Williams’ priorities are to maintain a highly competitive, high-quality sports program.
“What they’re doing is hindering the academic opportunities for their female students,” said women’s law attorney Mangel.
Financial assistance from outside the college also favors men.
Although women athletes help haul and deliver wood for an annual fund-raiser through the booster club, they don’t reap the same benefits as their male counterparts.
So far this year, male athletes received 85 percent of the booster funds paid directly to NIC’s auxiliary services for housing a dozen athletes.
Last year, the money the boosters paid for off-campus housing and books also went overwhelmingly to men. The decision on how to distribute the booster money is made by the athletic department, the club president said.
Headley acknowledges that - in terms of dollars - men and women are not treated equally in the NIC athletic department. Yet, he hears few complaints. He’s thankful that the college doesn’t have a football program throwing the numbers off even more, he said.
“We’re one women’s sport down. What do we do? Cut out a man’s sport,” he asks. “I would rather add a sport.”
The most likely new sport would be women’s fast-pitch softball. Slowing the adoption of fast-pitch has been lack of competition and money.
While competition in women’s fast-pitch is growing, it will be difficult for NIC to spend more money on sports in the face of county taxpayers clamoring for spending cuts.
The athletic costs associated with travel and recruiting out-of-state athletes have come under scrutiny as taxpayers demand budget cuts in all taxing districts.
When the issue of athletic spending was raised this summer, the NIC board of trustees appointed a special committee to examine the role of athletics at the college. The committee will start meeting this week.
Headley, who is on the committee, is optimistic about the outcome.
“They’ll find once they start looking at our budget they get a pretty good bang for their buck,” Headley predicted. “I’m a firm believer that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: NIC athletic programs compared