Lurking beneath the excitement in the Quakers camp, though, is a kind of bitter sadness. It's not because a team that reached the NCAA tournament last season lost several key players to graduation. It has to do with a program feeling spurned and unappreciated in the wake of a series of events that are encompassed by as touchy an issue as this university's athletic department has ever had to deal with. Different sources tell the story different ways, but it seems to go something like this. Having been banished from its Franklin Field locker room to the Hollenbach Center when spring football practice was instituted, the baseball team two years ago received an anonymous donation -- in the neighborhood of half-million dollars -- for a locker room facility to be built right next to Bower Field. But the construction costs exceeded expectations, so the plans had to be scrapped. The donor then said the money could go to a new locker room for the team to be built in the caverns of Franklin Field. But those plans were unexpectedly nixed by the athletic department. Such a facility, it seems, would have violated Title IX, which guarantees equality for men's and women's sports at all universities receiving federal funding. Because it would have been impossible to build a comparable facility for softball, the financial see-saw would have been tilted too much toward the men's sports side. It's my guess that, whether the athletic department admits it or not, the proposed locker room was a victim of bad timing. This was right around the time, in the summer of 1994, that a complaint was filed on behalf of 10 Penn coaches and female athletes alleging discrimination in University athletics in violation of Title IX. Among the inequities cited in the complaint were facility disparities. Building an expensive locker area for baseball -- while the softball team languished in its dank Hollenbach Center dressing room -- would not have been the wisest thing to do as the University tried to reach a settlement in the Title IX suit. A compromise was reached, according to which the Hollenbach Center, the baseball team's temporary home since 1994, would become its permanent home after undergoing an overhaul. (Ironically, the cost for the refurbishing was paid -- in part -- by another private donation given to the baseball team, this one for a press box to be built at Bower Field.) The upstairs portion of the center now holds locker rooms for the baseball, men's soccer and lacrosse teams. Downstairs are locker rooms for the softball team as well as a couple of other women's squads. So everything is nice and equal and the University of Pennsylvania is in total compliance with Title IX on this particular issue. In truth, though, everything is not equal. See, while the softball team can step out the back door of its locker room and walk across a couple of soccer fields and be on its playing field, the baseball team has to trek each day from Hollenbach across the Schuylkill Expressway overpass, around Franklin Field, behind the Palestra and down to Bower Field and back, a not insignificant walk given the equipment that often has to be lugged to and fro. When the Title IX controversy first came to life at Penn two years ago, Senior Associate Athletic Director Carolyn Schlie-Femovich put the whole issue of gender equity in perspective: "You achieve gender equity when the coach or athlete in one program would gladly trade places with a coach or athlete in a comparable other-sex program." Penn coach Bob Seddon has to drive a van back and forth every time heavy equipment needs to be transported from Hollenbach to Bower Field. Ask softball coach Linda Carothers whether she would like to trade the location of her team's locker room vis-a-vis its playing field for Seddon's, and the answer would be a predictable one. This inequity does not matter, though, because the principles of Title IX apply only to the under-represented sex at a particular university, which almost always means women. If the softball team had to make the longer trek back and forth, that would be a cause for complaint. Title IX was designed to keep athletic departments from spending undue time, energy and money on high-profile men's sports. But things may have gone too far. The threat of lawsuits has made universities -- by no means just Penn -- hesitant to take any action that could conceivably be construed as being the least bit gender-biased. So now we've reached the point at which a team can't accept a private donation from a parent or "friend of the program" in order to construct a much-needed locker room. If the baseball team already had a plush locker room within shouting distance of Bower Field and someone wanted to donate $500,000 to build a private jacuzzi and sauna for each player, that might be a different story. But in this case, the proposed facility was definitely needed. And had the baseball team gotten its Franklin Field locker room in the first place, maybe less University money would be required to renovate Hollenbach. Most of us would agree that Title IX is a good and just program. Sometimes, though, a good thing can be taken too far.Comments powered by Disqus
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