An Athletic Trial of Merger
Athletes and sports commentators have always described their calling in grand terms: "the drama of athletic competition," "the thrill of victory," "the agony of defeat." Some have gone so far as to call sports "the moral equivalent of war."
But athletics at Harvard during the last year turned into yet another kind of war--a war of the sexes for equal access to facilities and funds--as the men's and women's athletics departments fully merged for the first time.
Since last year a new force has entered the arena of athletics. In June, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued proposed guidelines for the implementation of Title IX of the 1972 Education Act that forbids sex discrimination in educational institutions. The regulations deal primarily with athletics and now, threatened with the loss of federal funds, Harvard will have to assure that men and women athletes have "equal access" to sports and "equal facilities."
When HEW released the guidelines, Eric Cutler '40, assistant director of Athletics, said that the department was already meeting these regulations. Since they were published, however, there has been what Mary G. Paget, assistant to the director of Athletics for Radcliffe, describes as a "substantial gain" for women's athletics at Harvard.
HEW's entrance on the scene does not necessarily mean the end of conflict between men's and women's athletics, because Harvard simply does not have adequate practice facilities for both sexes' varsity, junior varsity, freshman and intramural teams. "It's not as if we started with the Taj Mahal, and tried to give the women a few wings in it," one Harvard administrator says.
A planned athletics building, to include indoor squash courts, basketball courts, a swimming pool and other playing areas, should answer the present needs of both men and women athletes--but probably not for about ten more years at the current rate of fund-raising and planning. In the interim, men and women must share the college's only regulation basketball court and only regulation pool for undergraduates, both housed in the IAB.
The current athletics budget is a "no growth" one. Translation: When the two departments merged, the Faculty agreed to pay for only one more athletics administrator although the department had to absorb 11 Radcliffe varsity sports.
The Radcliffe teams, however, found the merger a financial windfall. Compared to a 1972-73 budget of about $75,000, women's athletics had $144,350 at its disposal for the 1973-74 year. This year's budget will climb to about $170,000. Given the no-growth Harvard budget, an increase for women necessarily meant a cutback in funds that used to go to men's programs, irking some of the male athletes.
The scenario for the athletics merger began to take shape with the Harvard-Radcliffe non-merger merger in 1971, when women's athletics moved into the vague realm of "non-retained" Radcliffe functions. All Radcliffe tuition became part of Harvard's unrestricted funds and Harvard took over the financing of Radcliffe sports.
Until the fall of 1973, however, Harvard did little toward merger except to take over Radcliffe's $75,000 annual budget. The Radcliffe Crew set up shop in Harvard's Weld Boat House in 1971, but had to raise its own money in 1972 when it needed a new boat. The men's swimming and basketball teams retained priority for prime times on the IAB basketball court and in the pool, and Radcliffe athletes continued to hold most of their practices on the non-regulation facilities in the Radcliffe gym. Whenever Radcliffe teams had out-of-town meets, they had to find their own transportation while Harvard athletes rode in buses or airplanes. And when the women's crew--the 1973 North American champions--needed funds to travel to Moscow for the European Rowing Championships, the Friends of Radcliffe Rowing, not Harvard, financed the trip.
President Horner says that controversies over funding the crew's travels spurred her to call for full merger in athletics. "I said [last summer to Dean Rosovsky] that the whole Harvard-Radcliffe merger was on trial in athletics--either we merged or we unmerged," she said. "If this was how women would fare under merger, it didn't speak well for the future."
So in September 1973, the bureaucratic wheels began to turn. Robert E. Kaufmann '62, director of finance for Dean Rosovsky, sent Watson a memorandum directing him to work for "equal access and opportunity at all levels of athletic endeavor to undergraduate men and women," and asking for a report on Radcliffe's needs of facilities, coaching and administration.
As part of the merger agreement, the memorandum continued, Robert B. Watson '37, director of Athletics, gained control over budgeting and policymaking for Radcliffe's program, and Paget, then in her twelfth year as director of Radcliffe's Sports, Dance and Recreation Department, became a member of Watson's staff. (On the bureaucratic ladder of the Harvard Athletic Department, Paget's current post as assistant to the director of Athletics for Radcliffe is listed right under the Harvard ticket manager.)
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Kaufmann's memo to Watson, which set the merger in motion last fall, stressed that Watson should "presume that comparability [of Radcliffe to Harvard athletics] can be accmplished, rather than presume the problem is insoluble." Kaufmann referred not only to women's skill levels but also their access to Harvard's facilities, practice areas, and finances.
But the tone of Watson's response did not echo Kaufmann's optimism. "It is not our intention to make any serious dents in [the men's] practice procedure," Watson responded on November 2. "Are we justified in dismantling established men's programs that have operated in a vigorously competitive atmosphere in order to accord 'equal treatment' to programs which are not really equal in either intensity or dedication?"
"It may be an unfair attitude," Watson wrote, "but I have a feeling that with at least several Radcliffe teams, being a member of the varsity is more a matter of interest than ability."
Watson did not consult Radcliffe athletes or Paget before writing his letter, and showed it to Paget about three weeks after delivering his letter policy statement to Rosovsky.
Watson appointed two student advisory bodies to help smooth out some of the confusions in the new relationship. The Undergraduate Athletics Council, a committee of three women athletes and three men athletes, and all Radcliffe and Harvard captains met regularly with Watson throughout the year.
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The merger did not affect all Radcliffe teams uniformly. Those that practiced on playing areas not already overcrowded by the men's program--the crew and sailing team on the Charles, the ski team on distant slopes--prospered from the merger. The Radcliffe tennis team even worked out an agreement with Harvard tennis coach Jack Barnaby to share the indoor courts with the men's squad during the winter.
Barnaby rearranged practice times for his junior varsity team--and often cut their times--so that the Radcliffe players had one of the three courts for two hours, six days per week. During spring recess, the Athletics Department sent the women's tennis team on a Southern tour.
But for women's teams that practice on the strained facilities--the swim, basketball and squash teams--the merger turned into what many Radcliffe athletes now term a "sub-merger."
The women's swim team had scheduled practice time in two lanes of the IAB pool for only four-and-a-half hours per week. (The men practiced four hours each day.) The women were assigned to the lanes under the diving board, often at the same time that Harvard's divers practiced. Occasionally, several Radcliffe swimmers say, they arrived for practice and found the men's team in their lanes. Harvard swim coach Ray Essick did not order his swimmers to clear the lanes, they say, and many Radcliffe swimmers often left rather than argue.
Essick has denied that the Harvard team ever usurped Radcliffe's lanes, but then qualified his statement: "'Never' is a very difficult, general term."
The Radcliffe basketball team secured only one hour per week of practice time on the Harvard regulation court, and practiced for two hours, each of the other six days on the Radcliffe gym court, which is at least 15 feet narrower than the IAB facility. Harvard's varsity practiced daily on the IAB court, and the Intramural house teams had nightly scheduled practices there. On the priority yardstick, the Radcliffe varsity ranked lower than the non-varsity house squads.
"This year, we just couldn't do it," Watson said. "Many of the men swimmers, basketball players, and other athletes would have said, 'Why should these girls take our time away when they were never recruited and we were?'"
The comment goes right to the heart of a crucial difference between the Radcliffe and Harvard philosophies of athletics. Harvard recruits its athletes and can plan five years in advance for the teams, competition schedules, and coaching needs. Radcliffe, however, develops its teams once the women athletes have chosen Radcliffe for other reasons. "I'd be upset if Radcliffe ran around recruiting athletes. But the admissions office needs to learn more about athletics. They should see it as part of character and achievement," Connie Cervilla '74, former Radcliffe crew captain and former national swimming champion, said last spring.
Radcliffe's teams nevertheless have a strong, impressive record in the New England leagues. Among its ten varsity teams, seven qualify for and participate in regional, sectional and national events. Five hold USA, national or regional intercollegiate championships. The crew, swim team and tennis team all had perfect seasons last year.
Because Radcliffe stresses development as well as intensity, Paget said that administrators' personal encouragement and involvement with Radcliffe athletes is a central tenet of the program. All Radcliffe team captains contacted during the last weeks of school said this aspect of the program needs preserving.
Paget added such arguments to her own bid for a larger Radcliffe-oriented athletics staff. But Watson, in an interview, dismissed Paget's call for more women's administrators as a last-ditch effort "to protect her students and the programs she founded. It's very hard for poor Miss Paget," Watson said. "Suddenly she's told that the program she nursed for so many years is about to be swallowed up."
Watson's casual substitution of the words "swallowed up" for the term "merged" was not a coincidence. In the same interview, Watson said the non-retained status of women's athletics meant "Radcliffe didn't want anything to do with it."
"They can't have it both ways," Watson said in reference to Paget's request for her own assistant. "There are tradeoffs. There's no such thing as a Radcliffe Department of Athletics. This is Harvard."
But if Watson thought Radcliffe wanted nothing to do with athletics, Paget was not the only active dissenter. In early December, three Radcliffe athletes wrote a letter to Horner on behalf of all women athletes, charging that "the Harvard Athletics Department has interpreted the merger directive with a discriminatory attitude."
"A uniform application of policy is not the solution for the women's development," the letter continued. It also called for "a director of athletics fully aware of the women's collegiate athletic scene and not a director foreign to women's athletics and alienated by its growth."
"Merger implies there's something valuable on both sides," Cervilla says. "But in athletics, Harvard decided that its system was the best and plugged Radcliffe into it."
Cervilla's assessment comes close to a comment that Baaron B. Pittenger, Watson's right-hand man, uses to sum up the merger: "It's like having a family full of boys, and suddenly you have a daughter." Or Watson's way of saying "we gave them" facilities, time or resources, when "we" means Harvard men and "them" means Radcliffe women. In last year's cases of the Radcliffe swim, basketball and squash teams, the women obtained only those practice times that the men's teams did not use. Put simply, Radcliffe and Harvard students were not "undergraduates" in a merged athletics program; they were men and women in a men's athletics program, or (in Pittenger's words) in a family of boys.
Backstage, a personal feud between Paget and Watson fed the fires of an already overheated controversy.
Watson sees the movement of women into many Harvard programs as a threat to men's athletics. If Paget is protective to a fault in his eyes, the reverse is no less true. Watson tells a story about an Ivy League college, which he won't name, whose men's athletics program crumbled when women's teams began to share its facilities.
Watson often treated men and women as adversaries. He told the football team, when it took buses to the Penn game last fall instead of an airplane, that the women's teams had used money he would have budgeted for them, one team manager said. He also said that if Radcliffe swimmers had priority over the IAB pool from 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. (the Harvard team currently uses the pool from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., the prime time hours), "they would wreck the men's program."
When Paget requested those practice hours for the women (other times conflicted with the swimmers' classes), she says, Watson called her "disloyal to Harvard" and charged her with attempting "to destroy the men's swimming team."
He also called the women athletes "dabblers," rather than committed sportswomen, Paget says. Three other Radcliffe athletes say Watson also called them "dabblers" when they requested longer or prime time hours. Asked in an interview whether he had so branded women athletes, Watson did not deny the charge and repeated that most women's programs "are not as intense as the men's."
Watson and Paget reached a standoff in late spring and Paget refused to talk to him for almost a month, dodging his phone calls and visits to her office. "We think we've been treated like pariahs," Paget said.
As the season drew to a close, Watson hit on a solution for dividing up limited indoor facilities among men's and women's teams. In swimming, perhaps the most difficult sport to accommodate during the last year, he invited the two teams' captains into his office to work out a sharing system. They succeeded. The Harvard swimmers were willing to set aside enough lanes so that the women could practice at least one hour daily in the IAB pool.
As for now, the merger is scheduled to roll on in its current direction. "If Bob Watson wants to do something," Kaufmann says, "the dean would say 'he's the director of Athletics and he should be able to decide.'"
Freely translated: no assistant for Paget, and little change in the concept of men's priorities over prime time and limited facilities.
However, plans made by the Athletics Department for next year indicate that Harvard may be abandoning that concept. Whether it is the natural course of merger, as Watson claims, or whether it is largely a consequence of the HEW regulations, next year women athletes at Harvard will get a much better deal than they have in the past few years. "Now I can say that it was good that Radcliffe athletics merged with Harvard athletics," Paget said last week.
Over the summer, Watson and Paget arranged meetings with the coaches of the Harvard and Radcliffe swim, crew, basketball and squash teams to work out the details of how they will share the facilities that are available this coming year. The results so far--the squash and basketball meetings are scheduled for the next few weeks--have been considerable. The plan for swimming, for example, is that both teams will practice at the same time in the IAB. The Radcliffe team, about half the size of Harvard's, will have two lanes, and the Harvard swimmers will have four lanes.
This represents quite a change from last year's situation when Harvard swimmers granted the Radcliffe swimmers an hour a day in the IAB pool. Watson says that the total number of Harvard swimmers will have to be cut this year from around 30 to 25 to make room for the Radcliffe team. He also lists some other areas in which Harvard athletes will have to give up their priority over prime time and facilities: the Radcliffe field hockey team will have what Watson describes as the best field at Soldiers Field to practice on this year, and the Radcliffe crew will have some afternoon hours in the tank, instead of always having to practice there in the early morning as before.
The Title IX regulations were helpful in working out the training schedules this summer, Watson says, because they demonstrated to Harvard coaches that it was not just Watson who was changing old athletic policies. "The coaches were hired with definite ideas," Watson says, "They didn't know why they should have anything taken away from them. Now they have to accept it."
It remains to be seen whether the new plans will work when the athletes get back and practice begins. There is still potential for the kind of friction that marred relations between Harvard and Radcliffe athletes and administrators last year. But, Horner feels, an important step has been taken in getting people to talk to each other and understand the different needs involved.
"Athletics is a good testing ground for merger," Horner said last week. The problems the athletics merger had last year, Horner said, highlight what equality is all about: The two departments merged in 1971, and it took three years for them to learn the difference between merger and submersion.
Many Harvard administrators lament the battle that grew out of the athletics merger, and point out that the Faculty spent more funds and effort in that area last year than in any other part of the merger. But money couldn't buy an answer to the needs of Radcliffe's athletes.
RoAnn Costin '74, swim team captain and past member of the crew, sums up the women's status: "As long as you show you're willing to train like a man, Harvard will accept you," she says. "And then if there's no threat on the men's program, facilities, or funding, there's no restriction on women."
Costin and many women athletes and administrators clearly don't find that summary comforting. It neglects the basic philosophy of women's sports that Paget advanced during the past year and that the students' letter to Horner clearly articulated. And it overlooks the seeds of a possibly more equal relationship between men's and women's sports: Equal treatment does not mean identical treatment in dollars or practice time.
It means, simply, that an athletic program serving men and women undergraduates should allow women--as well as men--to develop their teams and individual skills to the level that serves them most fully.