As a member of Penn State’s club field hockey team, I commonly find myself on the varsity field hockey team’s AstroTurf twice a week for practice.
I am consistently impressed by the varsity team’s history of success, which is delineated on banners that hang off the fence surrounding the field. When my club team runs our warm-up lap, I am able to read all of the signs, detailing countless Big Ten tournament titles and NCAA Final Four appearances. But on this brief run I am also able to notice one other thing: Beaver Stadium, looming almost regally in the distance. Football, along with other male sports including ice hockey, basketball, and lacrosse, dominate the sports culture here at Penn State. While the women’s field hockey team has consistently had a top ten national ranking and has garnered numerous accolades for its work, the team remains hidden in the domineering shadow of Beaver Stadium.
As I thought about the hockey team’s accomplishments, as well as those of the other women’s teams on campus, I could not help but wonder if there are disparities in the treatment of male and female collegiate athletes.
In 1972, Title IX was passed, stating: “No person… shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination” in any school-based program. Yet even in 2018, as Scott Yenor’s piece “A Sporting Difference: On Men’s and Women’s Athletics,” notes, “Sports in our culture actively construct and reinforce stereotypes about sex differences.”
Even though Title IX was intended to even the playing field for men and women in collegiate sports, its efforts have been thwarted by the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics. According to a 2016 article published in The New York Times, the NCAA is a nonprofit that accrues its funding by selling game tickets and television rights. As it does not receive federal funding, it does not have to adhere to the guidelines of Title IX. While the NCAA used to have a certification process in place to assure fair treatment between the genders, a moratorium was placed on this process in 2011. In turn, a moratorium was also placed on the strides towards gender equity in collegiate sports.
In 2015, approximately 57% of all college students were women. But only 40% of student athletes were female.
While the number of male collegiate athletes has increased by over fifty-thousand, the number of collegiate female athletes has increased by only 44,474.
There are also inequalities among the funds that are distributed to teams by the NCAA. For every game a men’s basketball team wins in the March Madness tournament, the league it plays in gets $260,000 upfront, and $260,000 each year for the next five years. How much money does a women’s team’s league get when it wins a game in March Madness? Zero.
Looks like the women’s teams at Penn State aren’t the only ones that exist in the shadows of the men’s teams.
But as women’s tennis legend Billie Jean King once said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” Women will have to keep fighting, but their tradition of excellence as champions will force universities to get it right.