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Harvard, Ivies Stick With AIAW

Sports Feature


Last spring the brass at 60 Boylston faced a major decision.

Should Harvard's women's athletic programs remain committed to the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the first--and, until recently, the only--organization to recognize and support collegiate female athletes? Or should they transfer their loyalties to the NCAA, which after 75 years of governing men's athletics decided in January to offer national championships for women as well?

When this academic year began and for women as well?

When this academic year began and athletic departments around the country were required to declare which of their teams would attend AIAW nationals if invited and which would choose NCAAs, Harvard and the other seven Ivy League schools committee their women's programs exclusively to the AIAW.

"We thought that we should stick with the AIAW until we can see what path the NCAA is following," Pat Miller, Harvard's assistant director of athletics, explains. "And personally, I question the sincerity of the NCAA in its commitment to women's athletics."

Miller points to the fact that the NCAA still has a case in federal court challenging Title IX, which could help female athletes receive funding equal to that of their male counterparts.

"How can I feel good about the possibility of the NCAA controlling women's athletics if that is the posture of the organization?" Miller asks.

The NCAA's significantly larger bankroll has erased any similar doubts of most athletic officials outside the Ivy League. Unlike the AIAW, the NCAA pays the travelling expenses of any team or individual athlete that attends a championship event--a fact that has prompted a considerable number of schools to commit at least some of their teams to the NCAA.

Springfield College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Boston University have all opted to send certain women's squads to NCAA championships should they receive bids.

"It's strictly a financial question," John Simpson, B.U.'s athletic director says. "If I had the money, I wouldn't care one way or another which organization we went with."

Springfield and UMass athletic officials share Simpson's view of the situation. In 1979, Springfield's Eastern champion field hockey team could not accept their position in the AIAW Division II national tournament because the college was unable to finance their trip.

And Robert O'Connell, the assistant athletic director at UMass, estimates that his department spent nearly $25,000 in travelling expenses last year--a figure that NCAA affiliation should reduce by approximately $15,000.

Still, for most people, the issue involves far more than just financial considerations. Like Miller, many AIAW proponents and officials question the NCAA's motives and resent its interference in women's athletics.

"This move is their attempt to achieve control of women's athletics and to put us out of business," Marilee Baker, director of athletics at Princeton and president-elect of the AIAW, says. "Two years ago, we proposed a merger, but they refused to even discuss it."

Miller agrees with Baker, adding, "I think that for a long time they wanted to believe that women's athletic programs and their demands would just go away, and when that didn't happen, they decided that they wanted to have complete control over everything."

But many of the people involved with women's intercollegiate athletics would like to see the NCAA take control of everything.

Over the past two years many schools have expressed dissatisfaction with the AIAW and have approached the NCAA to request that it sponsor women's sporting events.

Among these representatives was Dr. Edward Steitz, the athletic director at Springfield College. Two years ago, Steitz took the floor at the NCAA's annual meeting to advocate NCAA involvement in women's programs because he feels that "in terms of finances and exposure, the NCAA can do more for women's athletics."

Carole Kleinfelder, Harvard's women's basketball and lacrosse coach, became a member of the NCAA committee on national championships, despite the fact that both her teams are commited to the AIAW.

"Working with the NCAA committee has been one of my best experiences as a college coach," Kleinfelder says. "Three years ago there was no way I would have approved of the NCAA governing women's athletics. But after working with their organization, I am convinced that the NCAA can offer my athletes the best experience possible."

According to John Toner, the athletic director at the University of Connecticut and a member of the NCAA executive board, the NCAA did not even consider involvement in women's sports until three years ago, when it became apparent to them that the AIAW was not satisfying the needs of many women's athletic programs.

"For a while after it was formed, the AIAW was making excellent progress, and the NCAA did not want to interfere," Toner says. "But then they decided to locate their headquarters in Washington, and they got wrapped up in the politics of the whole thing at the expense of athletic administration."

NCAA headquarters are located in Shawnee Mission, Kan.

AIAW supporters contend that the organization's detractors are too impatient with the AIAW, which is barely a decade old and presumably has not had enough time to acquire the resources and efficient administration of the NCAA.

And they feel that people should wait for the AIAW to mature, because some of the organization's policies reflect a more genuine interest in the athlete as an individual.

In particular, AIAW proponents cite recruiting regulations as evidence of the women's organization's concern for the athlete. The AIAW prohibits its coaches from contacting any prospective freshman in person during the recruiting process, a statute designed to protect the student-athlete from undue pressure.

Pushy, Pushy

Even Kleinfelder admits that she finds the aggressive recruiting tactics permitted in the NCAA insensitive to the problems facing a talented twelfth-grade athlete.

"I find the whole idea of entering an athlete's home for recruiting purposes very unappealing," she says. "I don't think it's right to place so much pressure on a high school senior, but if I ever have to do it, I will."

Although most athletic officials agree with Kleinfelder, 119 schools have decided to abandon the AIAW entirely and adhere to NCAA rules. And many AIAW officials fear that despite the respect awarded their recruiting philosophy and their commitment to women's athletics, the NCAA's decision to hold women's championships--coupled with its far superior fiscal resources--poses a severe threat to their organization's future.

As Harvard swimming coach Vicki Hays puts it. "You can work as hard as you want to preserve a philosophy, but as soon as money enters the picture, even the most noble effort will be shot to hell."

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