Finally Making the Boys Play Fair

Twenty-five years after the passage of Title IX, a Supreme Court decision may have finally convinced the University of Minnesota to beef up its women's athletic program.

The corresponding disparity in the number of scholarships awarded to women and men has also persisted; this year 143 women will attend UM on a sports scholarship, compared to 263 men. Some of the women on the hockey team will have to wait to receive a scholarship, according to Laura Hallordson, coach of the new team. Scholarships will be phased in during the next four years, eventually leading to 18 women's hockey scholarships.

"There's this Minnesota ethic that says if this is unfair, I want to find out what I can do to make it better," Kane says, which has made the university a pioneer in women's equity in sports. "It's still not equal, but it's far better than most places around the country."

Pundits' fears that sacrosanct men's teams would subsidize the new programs have proven completely wrong. The university's Title IX spending, including $330,000 of the ice hockey budget for this year, has come from its central pool. In addition, the U has tapped its private-sector partners. Voelz says that Coca-Cola pitched in $1.1 million last year, and that Reliastar, Nike, and Louisville have also made contributions. Proceeds from women's hockey ticket sales will also defray some costs, says Mary Amundson of the office of the Vice President for Student Development and Athletics.

The state has anted up, too. Last year, the Legislature gave the U $7 million, plus $3 million this year to build a smaller, more intimate arena for the women's hockey team. Until it gets built--and it's still in the planning stages--the women will share ice time in Mariucci Arena with the men's team. And even if state and private assistance dries up, UM officials say the women's hockey team most likely will never receive a dime from the men's teams. Amundson says that profits on the gate receipts from men's sports, such as from this year's successful basketball season, are first reinvested back into the same men's program. Any further surplus goes to help pay off the university's financing on Williams and Mariucci arenas, built for the use of the men's teams.

Which is why Hallordson is so interested in getting a new arena for the women's team. "We want a home of our own," she says. "If you go into Mariucci Arena and look around at the pictures on the wall you're surrounded by a rich, 75-year tradition of men's hockey. A new arena would allow the women's team to build the same kind of tradition. Should the university choose to build the arena it will be the first arena in the nation dedicated to women's ice hockey."

But not the last. The 1998 Olympics are slated to include women's ice hockey, and the number of young women graduating from high schools who want to play hockey at the collegiate level is increasing, with some high school teams already identified as "feeder teams."

The argument that no one will come see women play hockey is perhaps best disproved by these feeder teams. In three years, the number of registered women's hockey teams at the high school level has jumped from 24 to 82. This year, the Women's Hockey State Tournament drew an estimated 28,000 spectators to the State Fair Coliseum.

"What we've found is that when you build women a ballfield or an ice hockey arena they have come, and come in unprecedented numbers," says Kane. "Women really just want a chance to play." And for Otto and other members of the new university team, a chance is what it's all about.

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