UM Athletics Strives to Bridge Gap Between Sports Inequality

By Sara Doan
Broadcast Journalism student 

Women’s sports at the University of Mississippi have made enormous progress since the introduction of Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972. This legislation guarantees that the underrepresented sex has equal opportunity to participate in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Although the University of Mississippi is striving to give equal opportunity to their student-athletes, there are still some gaps.

Ole Miss women’s volleyball players practice in the Gillom Center. Photo by Ashlee Smith.

Popularity Decrease in Women’s Athletics

Students at the University of Mississippi have noticed a drastic difference in the popularity of men’s and women’s sports. Students overcrowd the student sections during football and men’s basketball games, but the section is rather vacant for women’s basketball, volleyball, and softball games during the regular season.

Ole Miss senior Brianna Florez said that she has noticed this popularity difference between these sports.

“I think men’s sports receive more funding simply because they are more popular,” she said. “As far as spectators go, I would say, for the basketball games at least, I see far more students at the men’s basketball games than the women’s.”

Dallas Lyle, junior, said that he thinks the reason for this popularity differentiation is mainly because of sports history.

“Traditionally, men enjoy watching sports more than women,” he said. “Men want to see other men play sports, and I think these sports are more profitable because of that fan base.”

According to a New York Times study by Andrew Zimbalist, the value of winning the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in 2016 was roughly $1.56 million. Conversely, the value of winning the women’s tournament was zero dollars. Zimbalist said that this statistic perpetuates a historical pattern of discrimination against women in institutions of higher education.

The athletic administration at the University of Mississippi is trying to eliminate this problem by continuously promoting women’s sports to the community and the student body, but according to the students, the popularity of women’s sports is still a notable issue.

Coaching Salaries

In the past decade, Title IX has been an enormous victory for women’s sports. According to Mary Jo Kane, the director for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota, before the introduction of Title IX, most women’s sports were barely funded and run primarily by volunteer coaches. This new legislation propelled higher recruitment for women’s sports coaches, but even today, we see a gap between these coaches salaries.

The average annual institutional salary per head coach at the University of Mississippi for men’s sports is $1,467,974, according to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis. For women’s sports coaches, it is $236,171.

 

Ole Miss volleyball head coach, Steven McRoberts, has been working in women’s volleyball for over 22 years. He said that, throughout the years, he has seen an administration that strives to help every sports program be successful, but that he would love to see a smaller gap between coaching salaries.

“I think one thing that could be improved is the salary standpoint,” he said. “A men’s basketball coach may make double more than a women’s volleyball coach.”

Deputy Athletic Director for Sports Administration at the University of Mississippi, Lynnette Johnson, said that Ole Miss coaches are paid at the market value, which is determined by other Power Five programs throughout the nation.

“Across the country, a lot of the times people think that equity means actually ‘equal,’ but that’s not necessarily the case,” she said. “It’s that you’re treated equitably within the market of your sport.”

Coaches at the University of Mississippi are paid different amounts depending on the sport. This is based on awareness of the sport, its financial profit, and how much other coaches within the Power Five program make comparatively.

Room for Improvement

Johnson said that, over the years, she has only seen improvement concerning the equality between men’s and women’s sports at the University of Mississippi. With the introduction of Title IX, women’s sports have surged in popularity and involvement, but there is always room for improvement.

Nationally, according to Athlete Assessments, collegiate institutions spend just 24 percent of their athletic operating budgets on female sports, as well as just 16 percent of recruiting budgets and 33 percent of scholarship budgets on female athletes. But Johnson said that these low percentages are based on overall athlete percentages at individual educational institutions.

“A lot of percentages match the percentages of your female student-athletes,” she said. “So our undergraduate student-athletes percentage is 38 percent, therefore our budgets and dollar allotments match our overall percentages.”

Ole Miss is striving to ensure that each female athlete is given equal opportunity to their male counterpart, and head softball coach, Mike Smith, thinks that the school is heading in the right direction.

“I feel like pretty much all sports are created equal,” he said. “There are some things that can be changed, and I think they are in the process of being changed in the future. So I think this school is heading in the right direction when it comes to supporting all their sports both men and women.”

Head softball coach, Mike Smith, encourages his players during practice. Photo by Ashlee Smith.

Both Johnson and McRoberts said that they believe Title IX is often misconstrued. It is about giving the same amount of opportunities to all athletes, and that doesn’t necessarily always mean equal.

“We are always striving to make sure everybody has the same opportunity. Really that’s what we look at,” Johnson said. “Everybody is getting the same opportunity to have success on the field, on the court, in the classroom, and everywhere on this campus.”


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