MANKATO — Three years and hundreds of Maverick sporting events have gone by since March 27, 2009, but people still bring up the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament finals to coach Pam Gohl.
In a high-scoring, adrenaline-pumping game, the Mavs defeated Franklin Pierce 103-94, and they came back to a hero’s welcome at Minnesota State University. It’s a game Gohl, the women’s team and many spectators — including numerous former MSU women athletes — will never forget.
And it’s one that can be seen as symbolic of how far women’s sports have come since 1964 when they first began at MSU.
“I heard from a lot of former female athletes and how proud they were of our team to do as well as they did,” Gohl said. “It’s too daunting to your players to (tell them) they are representing the whole history of women’s sports (at MSU). ...
“But I think that, even to this day, I walk around the community of Mankato and meet people, and they’ll talk about that game, and they’ll talk about that team, and I’m proud to be associated with that.”
Gohl has only been at MSU for six years. But she knows women didn’t always have the opportunities her team does today.
“I know there were battles that were fought here a long, long time ago to have our girls have that opportunity,” Gohl said.
Called extramurals when women’s sports were introduced, Georgene Brock said the athletic department’s inclusion of women began small, and “it grew gradually,” said Brock, who was hired at MSU in 1964 to teach phy-ed.
Brock became the women’s athletic director in 1970, two years before Title IX was passed and prevented sex discrimination in all university student services and academic programs. For 34 years she saw firsthand the evolution of women’s sports and, finally, midway through her career, she witnessed Title IX’s influence on sports at the university.
These days, Title IX is usually spoken of through the lens of sports. But when it was first passed in 1972, Brock said that wasn’t the case.
“It was more about education in general,” she said. “It wasn’t thought about what it might do with women’s athletics.”
Women’s sports grew at MSU due to student and administration support and the growing belief of women across the country that “it was about time women had more opportunities in sports,” Brock said. “It started growing and kept growing.”
But even by the late 1980s, women’s athletics still were not equitable with the men’s program at MSU, she said, adding that the non-compliance with Title IX was not malicious.
“Nobody brought it to their attention,” she said, referring to university administration. “That’s the way it was a lot of places.”
Civil rights complaints
Title IX didn’t have much influence on athletics at MSU until the early 1990s when a complaint was filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in Chicago after a women’s track coach was let go, Brock said.
Shane Drahota, who oversees the gender equity plan in the athletics department, said the dismissal was representative of the larger issues of Title IX non-compliance in athletics.
The complaint was straightforward in stating that MSU was not providing equal opportunities for men and women athletes.
“They absolutely agreed with that,” Drahota said.
Brock said women’s gymnastics and bowling had been dropped due to a lack of funding in the mid-1970s, which had added to the imbalance.
The investigation is the reason MSU has put so much emphasis on making sure there are equal numbers of men and women athletes at the university. Drahota said, even today, that’s not the case at all colleges.
“Things happened around here that hadn’t happened before,” Brock said.
Across the country Brock said law suits were being filed against colleges and universities whose athletic departments were not in compliance with Title IX. Once the court system began ruling in favor of complainants and the result was the loss of federal funding, athletic departments began making changes, she said.
Brock said she doesn’t remember any push back from administration, men’s athletics staff or students.
“There were some people who believed in it and some people that didn’t,” she said. “We went through some committees and argued about things. But no one got fired about it, and no one got really, really angry.”
By 1998, when Brock was retiring, she was pleased with the athletics department that she was leaving behind. The women had a new softball field and the university was upgrading women’s locker rooms to make them more equitable, among various other improvements.
But other issues have arisen in more recent years. In 2006 the OCR investigated MSU’s athletics department when a donor to the university, Kevin Polansky, was curious about Title IX participation data and found that 61 percent of the athletes were men, and only 39 percent were women.
Dean Trauger, former vice president for finance, told The Free Press in ’06 that the disparity appeared to be the result of a process used in the past that was designed to count female athletes when the numbers were highest — before athletes were cut from teams or dropped out of a sport. On the other hand, male athletes were counted when the numbers were lowest: after cuts were made and some players quit.
Also, women’s junior varsity teams were counted, while the men’s baseball junior varsity team was not. Trauger also said that it’s possible the numbers used for track and field may have been inadvertently flip-flopped, meaning the men’s numbers were counted on the women’s tally and vice versa.
“Whether it was deliberate or not, or because they didn’t understand the process, I don’t know, but clearly we’ve got an understanding with the coaches now that there’s a specific date to use (when counting athletes),” Trauger said in ’06. “It’s not something that should have happened, but we’re not going to let it happen again.”
Drahota said several years ago another complaint was filed due to the different arena spaces for men’s and women’s hockey. Men play at the Verizon Wireless Center and women at All Seasons Arena.
Brock said the OCR came to Mankato and did another thorough investigation of the athletics department. While no issues arose with the arena spaces, the OCR found an issue in the golf program.
Kevin Buisman, director of athletics, said the OCR had an issue with practice time and access to golf courses. Women were at Terrace View and men were practicing at the Mankato Golf Club, which Buisman said is commonly thought of as a superior course.
As it turned out, Terrace View allowed for a more flexible schedule for the women, which was a priority for them, Buisman said. The men were fine with the golf club’s more restricted time-frame to practice.
As a compromise, the men now practice at North Links Golf Course.
Maintaining status quo
Buisman, Drahota and Gohl made similar statements about where MSU stands today with regard to Title IX compliance.
“Of all the places I’ve ever worked, Minnesota State is the best I’ve ever seen, as far as making sure they are very conscious of Title IX,” Gohl said. “It’s impressive.”
Due to football having such a big roster, there are 11 women’s sports at MSU and nine men’s sports, with 250 athletes of each gender. Those are numbers Brock is proud to see. She has often had women her age and older tell her they wished they had the same opportunities as female athletes have today.
But even during times when there were fewer opportunities for women over the years, Brock said MSU administration and staff have been supportive, and compared to other college campuses where discrimination was prevalent, she’s proud of how far the university has come and without much resistance.
“It’s one of those things that we take a great deal of pride in,” Buisman said, adding that the gender-equity issue is important to him for personal reasons, too. “Being the father of two young daughters, I’m certainly a proponent for participation opportunities for young women and girls.”