Sue Durrant and Joanne Washburn never paused before answering.
When asked what was wrong with women’s sports at Washington State University in the ‘70s, Durrant and Washburn’s simultaneous knee-jerk response was, “Everything.”
Durrant and Washburn, now both 59 and with a combined 67 years at WSU, were members of the women’s athletic department at WSU when Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972. Now, as Monday’s 25th anniversary arrives, the two remain employed at WSU but have long since left the athletic department. Yet their names, along with 51 others, will always be linked to why WSU is considered a model institution in regard to Title IX compliance.
“The good news is, it has come light years from where we were 25 years ago when Title IX took effect,” current Washington State athletic director Rick Dickson said. “But it seems like maybe the last decade to half decade, the progress has slowed. I think maybe it needs that one last push.”
Durrant and Washburn helped give WSU a monumental shove in October of 1979 when they joined 12 other coaches and 39 student athletes in filing a lawsuit against the university for failing to comply with Title IX.
Title IX is the portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds. In brief:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
At the time, Durrant, hired in 1962, was a tenured women’s physical education associate professor and coached the Washington State women’s varsity and junior varsity basketball teams. Her 1972 varsity team qualified for the first national women’s tournament.
Washburn, hired in 1965, also was a tenured P.E. associate professor. In 1979, she was the women’s athletic director in the separate women’s athletic department. Both currently teach sports management at Washington State.
“Everything was wrong to the standpoint as no women’s coaches were hired as full-time coaches,” Durrant said. “There were no full-time assistant coaches. There were no separate locker rooms for women athletes. They simply changed in the main women’s locker room.”
The case grew from two Title IX complaints that already had been filed by students at the office of civil rights. The coaches had filed a Title VII complaint under the Equal Employment opportunities commission. At that time, Title IX did not cover coaches.
“Even though investigators came to campus, they would document the same things in terms of the inequities and programs between the total women’s offering and the total men’s offerings - and nothing happened,” Durrant recalled.
But the women never gave up and acted out their frustration by filing a complaint on the state level under the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Blair vs. Washington State University case (Blair was the last name of the first plaintiff, Karen Blair) was tried in 1982 before Whitman County Superior Judge Philip H. Faris. Among the many complaints were charges that women had been denied equal opportunities in scholarships, budgets and athletic facilities as well as equipment, coaches’ salaries and other areas.
The trial was built around 90 witnesses and 500 exhibits and lasted more than eight weeks. After 10 days of deliberation, Faris ruled women athletes had been discriminated against.
In addition to monetary changes, the judge ordered that during the 1982-83 school year 32.5 percent of the athletic budget must go to women’s sports, a number he arrived at on the basis of evidence that 37 percent of girls in high school participated in sports.
“I don’t think the university thought they were going to lose the suit,” Durrant said. “They thought surely they were going to win, and they didn’t.”
But in a roundabout way, WSU came out a winner.
Faris separated football from his order, stating Cougar football was “self-supporting or “nearly so” and thus had not contributed to the pattern of discrimination.
Sam Jankovich, Washington State athletic director at that time (1976-83), applauded the court’s ruling regarding football.
Now retired in North Idaho after serving as A.D. at WSU and the University of Miami, Jankovich sticks by his conviction.
“At the time that it was all happening, I really thought there were revenue-producing programs and there were non-revenue producing programs,” Jankovich said.
“I felt that football was so much different than any women’s program that it should have always been excluded. It was justifiable.”
Faris, since retired after serving four terms on the bench, is living in Colfax. He said it is against his policy to “revisit cases” and refused comment on his decision to separate football in the Blair case.
But nearly five years later on Aug. 6, 1987, the state Supreme Court overruled Faris’ judgment and the university was ordered to include football when it calculated the amount of support it gave women’s athletics.
“That was a huge win,” Durrant said.
“It answered the question that football can’t be different,” Washburn added.
Durrant, current president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, quit coaching at the end of 1982 and moved into athletic administration for two years.
“I wasn’t really fired (as basketball coach), but they made it so that I was not going to be able to continue. When you go to court, they can make it so you’re not going to be able to recruit players. … just by how they talk about you and how you’re not competent,” she said.
Washburn was a victim of the July 1982 merger of the men’s and women’s athletic departments.
“I got fired,” she said. “I remained teaching at WSU as tenured faculty. They just put you out to dry.”
However, the impact Durrant, Washburn and others had on forcing WSU to face compliance has placed Cougar athletics in an attractive spotlight.
Their court battles, which spanned eight years, proved to be a Title IX compliance blessing in disguise.
According to a USA Today study, only nine out of 108 Division I schools are in compliance. WSU ranks fifth-best, behind three service academies whose female enrollment averages 14 percent. The University of Washington ranks ninth. “Not only did it change the numbers in the budget and so forth, most importantly, it forced this institution to make a conscious decision and commitment because when you get stuck with that, you go one way or the other,” said Dickson, who has been at WSU for three years.
“Not only did they make the decision, but they really walked the walk.”
To comply with Title IX, the percentage of female athletes at a school should closely mirror the percentage of female students. Although the leeway number has never been legally defined, colleges within 5 to 6 percentage points are considered to be in compliance.
At WSU, 47 percent of its 1995-96 undergraduates were women, 49 percent of whom were athletes.
“We’ve been at proportionality for seven years now. I doubt if any other school has the proportionality that we have,” said Marcia Saneholtz, WSU’s senior associate athletic director.
Still, there are critics.
Sandy Moore, a plaintiff in the Blair case, left Pullman as the field hockey coach in 1982 when she was told the sport was going to be axed. Moore headed East - the hotbed of field hockey - and has since coached at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and currently is athletic director at State University of New York Oswego.
“I have the harshest words to say about what Washington State has done,” said Moore. “They had such inequities going on that they were hauled into court. When the court decided they were out of compliance, they had to comply.
“And then, they did all these bizarre things, like they dropped hockey and they dropped gymnastics. They dropped established programs.”
In the past 25 years, Washington State has dropped five men’s sports, three women’s sports and co-ed riflery. It has added women’s soccer and women’s crew.
The annual crew budget is $482,000. Twenty scholarships are allotted for crew athletes - second-highest to football - and WSU used 17.8 this past year.
It’s an expensive sport, but one that easily can boost the number of female athletes on campus. This year, 63 women were on WSU’s crew team, but the program can handle more than 100.
Moore continued: “And then they went around the country trying to say they were the examples of how to comply with Title IX. I think it’s horrible. They have set themselves up as God’s gift with how to comply with Title IX.”
Moore also talks the talk of a Title IX activist when it comes to the subject of football.
“The absolute solution to the problem, which would take care of financing women’s sports and not having to drop men’s sports, is to drop about 10 football scholarships,” she said.
Currently, Division I-A schools may offer 85 football scholarships.
“Why do they have to have 85 when a pro team only puts 55 on a roster?” asked Moore.
The National Football League actually stops at 46 players. But Division I-A numbers don’t always stop at 85. At Washington State, the 1996 football media guide listed 122 players, including walk-ons. Some of the superpower schools allow more than 160.
“Two years ago, when I testified at the congressional hearing in Washington D.C., I’ll never forget it,” Dickson said. “(Nebraska football coach Tom) Osborne was there, (Penn State football coach Joe) Paterno, (Iowa wrestling coach) Dan Gable. … some of the most recognizable men’s sports coaches in the country.
“And I’m there representing … a workable model on how you achieve proportionality whether you like it or not, while they’re there arguing against that.”
But what is a workable number? It can be argued college programs have to field enough athletes to prepare two teams on either side of the ball. They also have to deal with possible injuries and ineligible players. Unlike the NFL, colleges cannot replace players at midseason.
This is where large squads, including walk-ons, are a benefit. Dickson said Washington State football coach Mike Price is “comfortable” with about 40 walk-ons. However, more bodies could throw the proportionality ratio out of whack.
Jankovich, an assistant football coach at WSU before going into athletic administration, said he’s worried about certain situations, particularly about what will become of walk-ons.
“I really disagreed with what is happening right now,” he said. “You have to restrict walk-ons and men’s programs. I think you’re taking opportunities away from other people who excel in certain sports.”
Saneholtz does not sympathize.
“They’re not free,” Saneholtz said of walk-ons. “They take coaching time, they take academic service time, they take sports medicine time, they take physical development time.
“The tradition of male sport is that you have lots and lots and lots of men who sat on a bench for four years who hardly ever got in the game, but they get to say, ‘I played on the 1975 Cougar football team.”’
It’s a mindset that is foreign to female athletes, Saneholtz said.
“Women won’t walk on. If they don’t see that they’re making a significant contribution, they’ll probably leave the team. I think that’s all right. They go find better things to do with their time. They don’t have that tradition and I think that’s OK.”
Durrant and Washburn, who can’t remember the last time they attended a WSU football game, observe the changes that have been made in WSU sports since their day in court.
“In terms of women’s intercollegiate athletics, we’d have to say that definitely as far as the treatment of individual athletes, they’re treated much better,” Durrant said. “But you look at the opportunities in women coaching and administrators and a lot of women don’t have the opportunities to be in coaching or as athletic directors.
“And how many years has it been?”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BROWN UNIVERSITY CASE MAY SET STANDARD Although the law alone can’t change society, it often has been tested in the courtroom over the past quarter century. In the beginning, institutions dealt with Title IX through mild threats of enforcement. In February 1992, the Supreme Court ruled monetary damages would be made available. The landmark Brown University case might provide the necessary push to administrators whose gender-equity consciousness has been lagging. On April 22, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Brown’s appeal in a 6-year-old dispute centering on an attempt to cut costs by eliminating funding for two men’s teams and two women’s teams. The Brown women argued that even though the cuts affected more men than women, the percentage of female athletes at Brown was below Title IX guidelines. “Maybe there was a faction out there that was holding on to some hope this might get overturned,” Washington State athletic director Rick Dickson said. “And that would provide a different interpretation to Title IX that has been applied for 25 years.” Although the ruling only applies to Brown, the decision likely will be the standard by which Title IX cases will be measured. And the Court’s refusal to consider the case may translate into more deaths of the minor sports - wrestling, swimming, men’s gymnastics and tennis. “It all goes back to everybody thinks that these opportunities are a right for men and they’re not a right for women. If women have it, it’s OK. If they don’t have it, it’s OK,” Washington State senior associate athletic director Marcia Saneholtz said. “We’re more worried now about men losing opportunities than women gaining opportunities.” Hilary Kraus