Entitled to Change
Despite some major challenges, the 1970s was arguably the most revolutionary era in women’s athletics. On July 1, 1972 Congress passed Title IX. The legislation, which calls for equal opportunities for men and women in collegiate athletics, required federally aided universities to comply with gender equity standards. Although official mandates for Title IX were not established until 1975, the legislation spurred change on the athletic landscape from its inception.
Accompanying the Title IX announcement was the official introduction of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Originally formed in 1971, AIAW served as the governing body for women’s athletics, organizing all regional and national competitions. Oregon was a charter member.
During this era, Oregon began to increase its intercollegiate offerings for women and gradually started making revisions to the athletic program as a whole. Women had their first official track meet at Hayward Field on April 15, 1972, with more than 70 participants. Golf was added in 1972 followed by basketball in 1973 and cross-country in 1974.
In the winter of 1973, President Robert Clark established the Women’s Intercollegiate Association (WIA), separate from the Women’s Recreation Association (WRA). The WIA encompassed interest groups and clubs participating in intercollegiate competition while the WRA focused on campus-based activities. Karla Rice oversaw the WRA program. Becky Sisley was named Director of the WIA, which became a new unit within the Physical Education Department. Above all else, the WIA supplied athletes with a leader, Sisley, to advocate on their behalf-something they never had before.
Although a Title IX review in 1975 exposed extreme discrepancies between the women and men’s programs, moderate milestones continued for Oregon women. That year, 215 Oregon female student-athletes competed in 11 intercollegiate sports, ranging from bowling to field hockey to gymnastics. The women’s track and field team placed ninth at the AIAW Championships in 1975, marking the first time in history the team ranked in the Top 10. In the same year, Oregon also competed in the AIAW field hockey and volleyball National Championship tournaments, establishing itself as the only school to compete in all three AIAW contests. Rounding out the accomplishments for the year was freshman swimmer Michelle Menkins’ National Championship performance. Menkins qualified for 13 of 16 possible events for the meet.
Despite these accomplishments, the WIA struggled with funding, consistently running on meager budgets. Nonetheless, the women’s athletic department added two full-time coaches in 1976-Elwin Heiny for basketball and Tom Heinonen for cross-country and track and field.
The women’s athletic coaches, who were primarily physical education professors and graduate students, aimed to keep the focus of athletics on education. They were opposed to offering scholarships as they felt the essence of athletics would become altered. However, in 1977, drastic changes to structure and philosophy emerged in order to bring the school into compliance with Title IX. On April 1, the WIA merged with the Oregon Athletic Department. Becky Sisley continued to serve as the director of women’s athletics, but the program now fell under the jurisdiction of the Athletic Department, rather than the Physical Education Department.
Among the many changes was the adoption of women’s athletic scholarships. Women’s track and field coach, Heinonen, awarded the first scholarships to sprinter Melanie Batiste and runner Debbie Adams in the spring of 1977 for the next academic year. In addition to scholarships, the first women’s dual meet at Hayward Field occurred during this time, matching the Ducks against Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University).The women also began competing in coed track meets with the men’s team.
During the fall of 1977, the volleyball team played its first game in McArthur Court, and by the 1978-1979 season, the women’s basketball team began charging $1 admission to games. More than 5,000 fans watched the women’s victory over the South Korean team that year. Following suit with the progress made in other sports, the women’s softball program was successful in obtaining funding for a field, which was completed in 1979. That year, the softball team posted their best record, 17-6, adding even more momentum to the women’s program. Sisley stepped down as the women’s athletic director and Julie Carson was named deputy director of athletics.
As the University continued to reshape and enhance women’s sports, increasing controversy arose around Title IX mandates and within the Athletic Department. Several administrative changes occurred, and by the early 1980s, the women’s program was struggling to redefine itself. The next decade brought major changes, which proved to be challenging yet rewarding for Oregon’s athletic program.
- During 1971, approximately 150 women competed in Oregon’s 10 women’s sports. By 1975, 215 women competed in 11 intercollegiate sports.
- The women’s volleyball team placed fourth at the 1970 national tournament in Kansas City. The team raised almost all of the funding for the trip themselves.
- The Women’s Sports Council, a student governing body, was formed under the direction of Becky Sisley in 1968. The policy-making group was composed of two members from every competitive team. After the WIA formed in 1973, a WIA Advisory Council was created as well. Coaches and athletes sat on the council, serving as an advisory and policy-making board for the WIA.
- Until the WIA merged with the Athletic Department, the majority of funding for women’s athletics came from student incidental fees allocated by the ASUO.
- Oregon hosted its first women’s intercollegiate golf meet, the Daisy Duck Invitational Golf Tournament, in 1975. Since few Northwest teams offered golf, participation in the event was small.
- During this era, the women’s swimming team captured the Northwest College Women’s Sports Association title four of seven years.
- The 1975-76 Title IX compliance review involved a study comparing like institutions and their athletic programs as well as a general analysis of the trends across the country. Oregon officials looked at schools such as Colorado University and the University of Kansas. During the review, Oregon uncovered drastic differences between how it operated men and women’s athletics. Besides funding discrepancies, facility inequities and lack of a service support staff (secretaries, media relations personnel, etc.) were found in the women’s program. The University’s response to the imbalance was to merge the women and men’s program in 1977.
- Women’s intercollegiate bowling shifted to a recreational sport beginning in the 1976-1977 academic year.
- Bev Smith, current University of Oregon Head Women’s Basketball Coach, began her playing career at Oregon during this era . Leading the team to a 93-19 record during the 1978-1982 basketball seasons, Smith remains Oregon’s only female first-team Kodak All-American. Instrumental in Oregon’s two AIAW and one NCAA Championship tournaments during her career, she still holds eight school-records.