ORONO – Some of the funding is in place. Most of it is not.
Finances aside, the University of Maine unveiled Thursday an ambitious, 30-page proposal to address gender-related inequities in its intercollegiate sports programs.
“We see this as a very exciting day in the life of the University of Maine,” said UMaine President Fred Hutchinson, who announced the plan, titled Realizing the Dream: A Proposal for Achieving Gender Equity in Athletics at the University of Maine. Hutchinson said he expects to adopt the plan either in whole or in part in June.
Also participating in the press conference at the Dexter Lounge of the Alfond Arena were acting Athletic Director Walter Abbott and Director of Equal Opportunity Suzanne Estler.
The proposal, which was written by Estler, has two major parts:
Pump $724,000 in new operating budget money, coaching salaries, and scholarships into Maine’s nine women’s varsity sports programs by the 1997-98 academic year. The money would reduce an inequity in which women who make up 45 percent of UMaine’s undergraduate student body and account for 39 percent of total athletes, receive only 26 percent of total athletic funding.
Spend $7.75 million over an unspecified period of time to upgrade facilities. This includes covering Alumni Field with artificial turf to enable the women’s field hockey and soccer teams to use it; building a lighted softball diamond east of Mahaney Diamond; and adding a second-story locker room above the ROTC Armory in the Memorial Gym-field house.
The proposal calls for improving gender equity without cutting the budgets of Maine’s 10 men’s sports programs, although male participants are to be reduced slightly from 318 to 310. This will be accomplished by capping men’s teams.
“By 1997-98 we will have a program that has made a major leap from where it is today. It will be a much more equitable place for men’s and women’s athletics,” said Estler, who has been working since 1986 under several campus administrations to improve Maine’s compliance with Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing equal opportunity.
Estler said even if her proposal is adopted, more improvements for women’s sports may be needed to comply with the law. Title IX calls for funding and participation of women’s sports to be substantially proportional to the ratio of females on campus.
“If we get to 39 percent (of total funding), we’ll have made a substantial leap. In 1998 we can stop and fine-tune and see to what degree our targets are accurate,” she said.
The plan calls for the number of UMaine female athletes to increase from 204 to 236 by 1997-98, which would put participation at 43 percent. The goal is expected to be achieved through slight growth in participation across all the women’s programs. More athletes means more support will be needed.
According to the proposal, funding for the $724,000 increase will come from four sources.
1. Increased revenue from the Alfond Arena, beginning with $210,000 next year. This will be accomplished by refinancing a zero-interest loan the university gave itself to pay for the arena’s expansion, back-loading the payments through the year 2002. An unspecified percentage of ticket revenue from all teams using the facility would be spent exclusively on women’s sports.
2. Adding to the women’s budget $98,000 per year for four years from the existing campus inflationary fund, a pool of $3 million this year that comes from tuition and state appropriations.
3. Increases of $10,000 per year from the Black Bear Fund, money from gifts and donations.
4. Compounded interest from the growing $1 million athletic endowment that is expected to total $241,000 by 1997-98.
Less defined is the source of money for the new facilities. The proposal says that portion of the plan “will be fully dependent on the generosity of donors.”
Hutchinson said he believes it is realistic to expect the necessary donations to be raised, though he could not say when.
“I have no reservation as president in saying we can raise this money,” said Hutchinson, adding he is scheduled to meet with an unnamed potential donor Friday.
The proposal calls for identifying four women’s sports programs as “first tier,” meaning they will receive more of the funding because they are expected to compete at a regional or even national level. First tier sports are basketball, field hockey, softball and soccer.
Second tier sports will be indoor and outdoor track, cross country, swimming and tennis. These programs also will receive substantial increases.
Women’s basketball coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie, who attended the press conference, expressed confidence the plan can be achieved.
“I believe in it because of the clarity with which it was laid out to us. It is very thorough. If it had skipped parts, if it seemed thrown together, that would show. All the different components are there. That’s why I think it will come to fruition,” she said.