Bridging the gap

By Melissa Blake

After the passage of Title IX 33 years ago, 59 percent of NIU athletes are male and 41 percent are female, official records show.

“We take [gender equity] very seriously, and we very much believe in gender equity,” Athletics Director Jim Phillips said. “[We] continue to self-examine ourselves at every turn and try to make progress.”

There are 240 male athletes and 165 female athletes spread over seven male sports and 10 female sports, said associate athletics director Dee Abrahamson. The discrepancy in male vs. female sports is largely due to the size of some sports, said Jan Rintala, a kinesiology and physical education professor with an expertise in gender issues in athletics.

Abrahamson said football is the biggest sport in size at NIU, with 105 players on its roster. NIU is trying to reach a balance in the numbers of male and female athletes, she said.

To further reach a balance, the athletics department added women’s cross country in the mid-’90s and women’s track and field a few years ago, Abrahamson said. Title IX, passed in 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive financial assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Education Web site. The specifics of Title IX are complex with regard to sports. They have to do with ratios of student populations in regard to males and females, said NIU baseball coach Ed Mathey.

“I feel as if the intent of Title IX was to provide more opportunities for female participation in sports,” Mathey said. “I do not feel as if the attempt to raise participation in female sports should be at the expense of male sports. But when you only have so many resources, that is inevitable.”

Collegiate sports did not develop until the early 1850s, Rintala said. Women’s sports did not take off until the mid-1970s with Title IX legislation.

“It is important to look at Title IX not simply as a numbers issue, but also as a quality of experience issue,” Rintala said.

This “quality of experience” includes support for travel, the number of coaches for each team and playing facilities, she said. When Abrahamson was younger, she did not have as many opportunities to compete as she would have liked, she said. When she was in school, teams used to have to hold bake sales to raise money for traveling.

“We can now provide students with a great experience to be as good as they want to be,” she said. “We need to make sure we keep it fair for all students to follow their dreams.”

Elaine Eliadis, a sophomore physical education major and member of the women’s soccer team, said in terms of gender, sports are treated equally. She would like to see her team get more money, but money does not affect her team’s performance.

“That is just not how we think when we’re on the field,” she said. “We’re not like, ‘If I score this goal, then I can get my books on scholarship.’ It’s more like ‘If I score this goal, then my team will succeed.’ That’s all we’re looking for in the end – success.”

However, there is still some element of favoritism in sports, said Marie Zidek, a junior preventative and rehabilitative exercise science major and member of the women’s volleyball team. Traditionally, the number of male coaches outweighs the number of female coaches and coverage in newspapers tends to be biased toward male sports, she said.

“I think NIU could provide more ways for students to come support minority sports,” she said. “Also, the women’s sports are not as ‘hyped up’ as the males sports are in terms of indicating the importance of attending.”

Head softball coach Donna Martin said Title IX has provided a great deal of opportunities for her and her players. Efforts have been made at NIU and she feels her team is heard.

“As long as I feel our players are being treated with the same respect [as males], I don’t see [gender inequity] as too big of a problem,” she said.

Rintala does not anticipate the gender gap increasing in the future.