Donna Seid ’76 never thought she’d play a sport in college. Her parents didn’t think that sports were for girls, and she enrolled at Cal planning to study chemistry, as her siblings had done. But in her sophomore year, she remembers, a girl named Miki Adachi ’74 tapped her on the shoulder as she walked through Hearst Gym. “It looks like you can play sports,” Seid remembers her saying. She told Adachi she used to play, but not anymore. When her new friend insisted that she come try out for the basketball team, Seid demurred a few times before giving in.
“And boom, there it is. There’s all four years.”
Seid ended up being a “jock” through and through. She played intercollegiate basketball and softball, managed the swim team, and was the star quarterback on the intramural flag football team. “If they had an intercollegiate team in football, I definitely would’ve played,” she says.
This was 1973, nine years before the NCAA held its first women’s national basketball championship. Title IX, the landmark legislation that has since become synonymous with gender equity in sports, had only passed the year before. No one on Seid’s team was on scholarship. Lacking uniforms, they played in loose mesh tank tops called pinnies. No shoes, practice clothes, or any other gear were provided. And playing basketball in Hearst Gym was a health risk. The end lines were concrete walls, and one unfortunate Davis player was hospitalized after a layup sent her crashing headfirst into one.
While the men’s basketball team had a proper court, their own locker rooms, and traveled by plane, the women shared a locker space with the rest of the student body and got to games by rental car. On the road, men received $10 per diem. Women got $1.25.
Much has changed on and off the court in the 50 years since Title IX. There are now 15 women’s NCAA teams at Cal, each with their own athletic trainers, gear, and scholarships. Across the country, the number of women athletes in college has grown from less than 30,000 before 1972 to more than 200,000 today.
It’s tempting to say that Title IX’s work is done. But while the participation of female athletes has greatly increased, women are still underrepresented in college sports despite being overrepresented in the student body. Nationally, women receive $1 billion less in athletic scholarships annually than men, and women’s teams receive only half the resources that men’s programs do. And while compliance with Title IX is mandatory, a recent USA Today investigation revealed ways in which many universities manipulate their rosters.
Indeed, 50 years later, after much initial progress, women’s athletics appear to be at a stalemate. Faced with dwindling state support and financial losses caused by the pandemic, many universities are continuing to skirt the letter of the law while focusing efforts and resources on surefire moneymakers like football and men’s basketball, all but ensuring that gender inequities in sports will continue to persist.
Title IX was part of the Education Amendments of 1972, signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It is expressed in just 37 words and, interestingly, sports isn’t one of them: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Most schools, from elementary level on, receive some sort of federal aid, and failure to comply with Title IX risks a withdrawal of those funds—though the Office for Civil Rights has never once taken this step.
Title IX was initially meant to fight discrimination against women in law schools and other graduate programs. However, athletic administrators and coaches quickly realized that it could be applied to sports, and immediately sought exemptions. But Congress held firm, making it clear that the law did indeed apply to athletics.
To be clear, women’s sports existed at Berkeley long before Title IX. The first women’s intercollegiate game in the United States, in fact, was a basketball game between Berkeley and Stanford at San Francisco’s Page Street Armory in 1896, 11 years before a men’s team was established at Cal. Male spectators were denied admission, but more than 700 women attended. Stanford won by a score of 2–1.
Cal also boasted some of the greatest female athletes of their time, including tennis player Helen Wills ’27, the indomitable Wimbledon and Olympic champion whose face appeared on the cover of Time not once, but twice. Wills’s success was largely independent of the university, however, as there were no formal programs for women to participate at the college level then, other than club teams. Giants like Wills notwithstanding, opportunities for women to participate in athletics were severely limited pre-Title IX.
And yet, participate they did. When Joan Parker ’63, M.A. ’66, joined the Cal women’s basketball club in 1959, the team sewed their own uniforms and rented cars to get to games. They played other schools in the area, but it wasn’t organized. The goal was fun, not winning. After games, they would have cookies and punch. Coaches were faculty members in the physical education department. She didn’t really consider herself an athlete, nor did most girls at the time.
While Parker was a student at Cal, Donna Seid was growing up in Mississippi. There were no Little League softball teams, no youth soccer programs. No sports at all were offered for girls where she lived, she recalled. It wasn’t until ninth grade, when her family moved to California, that she tried basketball for the first time. She loved it.
At Skyline High School in Oakland, she played varsity basketball, softball, and tennis. Her coach, Shirley Heady, said that Seid was “the most skilled athlete I have seen in five years of coaching.”
After being persuaded to join the team at Berkeley, Seid once again rose to the top. An article in a 1976 issue of California Monthly (California’s predecessor) called her “quite possibly the best player on the Cal team.” The Daily Californian featured her often in their recaps of women’s games.
I met Seid outside of Haas Pavilion. You wouldn’t assume that this woman in her late sixties wearing a beige, collared shirt was once an athletic god. And yet, she told me about spotting an old classmate at a restaurant two years ago who, when he saw her, exclaimed, “The quarterback!”
“That’s all you remember of me, Rick?” she said, laughing, her pride obvious.
All of the athletes I talked to look back on their years playing for Cal fondly. They loved sports, formed strong bonds with their teammates, and were proud to be athletes. But not everyone shared their point of view. Seid’s parents, disappointed that their daughter had chosen a path unsuitable for girls, only came to two games her whole career.
Seid’s teammate Sue Elderkin ’78 told California Monthly in 1976, “Some people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re on the basketball team—how unfeminine.’ Especially my father. They think that the reason you want to play is you want to be a man.”
Colleen Galloway ’81, the first woman at Cal to receive a full athletic scholarship, recalled similar feelings. When she started playing in 1977, the women were allowed to practice in Harmon Gym. Their slot was after the practice for the men’s team, which often went over its allotted time. The women would wait outside the closed curtains. Then, no matter how much time they had lost to the men, intramurals kicked the women off the court as soon as their official practice time ended.
“We were definitely treated like intruders,” Galloway said. It wasn’t just the male athletes who were perturbed by their presence. “I was still in the generation where they didn’t want women to be muscular because then they thought you couldn’t have any babies,” Galloway said. “We were kind of seen as unusual.… I was never treated badly because I was an athlete, but there was not the full acceptance as there was with male athletes.”
Even now, says Bonnie Morris, a lecturer on sports and gender in the history department at Berkeley, “You can succeed as an athlete but fail as a woman.”
According to Morris, there is still “a lot of cultural anxiety about women catching up to men, participating in what men do and failing to be attractive: the ultimate crime.” She relayed her students’ stories of aunts telling them not to let their muscles get too big, and offered examples of pink uniforms for women, mascots having the word lady attached to them, and the idea that women athletes are not supposed to “sweat, swear, or spit.”
These days, the Cal women’s basketball team takes buses and planes regularly to games. They travel as far as Arkansas and usually get around $20 per meal. All but one player on the team is on scholarship. As for gear, they receive practice clothes, shoes, socks. “Depending on what you need for your sport, you get that,” said Michelle Onyiah ’24, a current rising junior on the basketball team.
To Onyiah, the men’s and women’s teams seem pretty equal now. They all room on the same floor together as freshmen, practice on the same court at the same time, and she’s never felt that the men get preferential treatment.
In fact, over three expense categories—travel, recruiting, and equipment—Cal spends over half a million dollars more on men’s basketball than women’s per annum. This despite comparable performance: Both have made appearances in the NCAA tournament 14 times since 1990.
Cal is not alone: The USA Today investigation found that schools spend about $93 million total more on men’s basketball than women’s. And it’s not just basketball. Across the sports it surveyed, the paper found that for every dollar spent on men’s teams, only 71 cents is spent on women’s.
This disparity was on view in the 2021 March Madness tournament, where photos and TikToks from players showed remarkably different standards in equipment, food, swag bags, and even playing venues. While men’s teams had a fully equipped weight room, women had “a chair and some weights,” said Morris. A look at the two tournament budgets revealed a $13.5 million gap.
Of course, men’s basketball also makes far more revenue than women’s. While most years the men’s team at Cal brings in a net positive revenue, the women’s team generally operates in the red. While it might seem fair to give more money to teams that are profitable, Morris is annoyed by the idea. She compares it to the suggestion by “business-minded people that the university should only fund majors that make money… Why should we even have an English major?”
She also provided an analogy. “You have a son and you have a daughter and you don’t give the son four plates of food and the daughter a sprig of parsley,” she said. “While you’re in school, fair play.”
Galloway, now the principal at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, agrees. “Do you only support someone that, at the end, can make you money? I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want that for my students. I don’t want them to think that their value and their worth is only based on if they can make me money.”
But of course, money matters, and women’s teams aren’t the only ones that have paid a price for not bringing in more dollars.
In 1974, Senator John Tower introduced the “Tower Amendment,” the first of many proposed amendments that aimed to exempt revenue-generating sports from Title IX. It failed, as did many subsequent attempts to do the same. So, rather than add women’s sports, many schools cut non-revenue-generating men’s sports, such as men’s gymnastics and wrestling, in order to comply. At the Division I level (the most competitive in the NCAA), men’s gymnastics went from 210 teams in 1969 to just 12 today, while wrestling fell from 146 teams in 1981 to 78 today.
In 2003, the National Wrestling Coaches Association sued the Department of Education, arguing Title IX created an unfair quota system, causing their sport to be eliminated. The case was dismissed on the grounds that institutions have flexibility in deciding how to structure their sports programs in compliance with Title IX.
“No school has to cut a team to make money available for women. A lot of schools did that rather than trim the budget of football,” said Morris. “Women end up resented, blamed.”
On paper, football makes the most money of any team at Cal. But the picture is more complicated. As Morris points out, fielding a football team is enormously expensive. Even if a team brings in significant revenue, that money is generally reallocated to the athletic department as a whole.
Besides power football schools, athletic departments often operate on a deficit. According to a report by the NCAA in 2019, only 25 of the 65 Football Bowl Subdivision autonomy schools (schools in the Power Five conferences) generated revenues that exceeded expenses. The schools that generated profits made a median of $7.9 million. The majority of teams viewers see playing every weekend lost a median of $16 million. After recent shakeups in the power conferences—most notably, the recent defection of UCLA and USC from the Pac-12—the economic picture grows even more tenuous for schools like Cal.
If even most men’s programs aren’t making profits, is there any hope that women’s sports can? Morris believes so, if only schools would invest in them. Some women’s sports, like soccer, are already as popular as men’s, she points out, and Olympic sports such as tennis, swimming, gymnastics, and track and field yield similar viewership for both the men’s and women’s games. At Auburn University, the women’s gymnastics team that includes Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee sold out every regular meet the past season, helped by the SEC TV network televising meets. South Carolina’s women’s basketball team is now revenue-producing after head coach Dawn Staley built relationships with fans through meet and greets and social media.
Morris feels that simple things like adding a line on a homecoming poster mentioning a women’s team playing that weekend could direct more attention to women’s sports. But even while acknowledging the importance of the bottom line, she stresses that, ultimately, Title IX is “really about equal access to school activities.”
There are three ways for colleges to comply with Title IX, referred to as the “three-prong test.” Colleges only have to satisfy one prong to reach compliance. Prongs two and three are less commonly used by colleges. The second calls for continued program expansion, which would look like a new women’s NCAA sport being added on a consistent basis, say every five years. The third is full accommodation of the underrepresented sex, meaning that schools would offer every team for which there is sufficient interest; if a school had ten women interested in ice hockey, it would be obliged to put an intercollegiate women’s team on the ice. Needless to say, this would be extremely challenging for a school that lacked a rink let alone the money or space to build one.
The first and most popular prong is proportionality: i.e., athletic opportunities for women and men must be proportional to their rates of enrollment. In other words, if a school’s enrollment is 52 percent women, their athletic programs must be 52 percent women. Both the courts and the Office for Civil Rights have shown deference to this prong.
“A lot of schools went with proportionality because it seemed the easiest way on paper to say, well, the school is 40 percent female and we give about 40 percent of our athletic dollars to women in the athletic program,” Morris explained. “The problem is that women have steadily outnumbered men at most, if not all, undergraduate institutions.”
At Berkeley, when Title IX was passed, “we should have had more women competing and being on teams,” says Joan Parker, who became the women’s associate athletic director at Cal in 1976. “That’s hard to do in the very beginning.” She said football, with its enormous resources and rosters, posed the greatest challenge to achieving parity. No women’s team comes close to having as many players as football does.
Even today, the proportionality problem persists at Cal, where women currently account for 54 percent of enrollment, but just 45 percent of athletes.
In fact, very few schools across the country achieve gender proportionality. Reportedly, the 110 schools surveyed by USA Today would, on average, need to add 104 roster spots—enough for three or four new teams—to comply with the proportionality prong. But, even with existing facilities, adding new teams is expensive. Clemson is spending $12.5 million up front and $1.7 million annually to create a women’s lacrosse team, for example. And new facilities up the ante. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which is also adding a women’s lacrosse team, is spending $102 million in the first phase of a construction project that includes a new stadium to host men’s and women’s soccer and the new women’s lacrosse team.
Most athletics departments can’t or won’t shell out that kind of money. Instead, they often game their numbers, skirting the intent of the proportionality prong via various tactics, such as padding women’s rowing rosters and double- and triple-counting female track athletes (a single woman who runs the mile in both indoor and outdoor track is counted twice, but a man who does the same is only counted once).
It’s also common practice for male practice players to be counted as women. Women’s basketball teams routinely solicit male students to scrimmage with the team in order to prepare them for bigger and stronger competition.
“It’s unfortunate. There is a lot of room for dishonesty, and that’s a reality of lots of regulations,” Morris said.
Making more opportunities for women is important though. Not just because it’s the law, but because when women are given the opportunity to participate in athletics, they do. Just a year after Title IX was passed, 800,000 more high school girls were playing sports. They care about sports, too: More than half of women identify as sports fans, and nearly half of the NFL’s fan base are women. Moreover, sports have long-lasting positive effects: According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Americans who participated in sports in high school or college said that it had a positive effect on their current physical health. Nearly 80 percent said it had a positive impact on their self-esteem.
Morris acknowledged that not a lot of people watch women’s sports—not even women—so it makes sense that schools want to prioritize the ones people will pay to see. But, she insists, there are simple ways to change that; ads showing a mother coaching a boys team or a grandmother teaching a granddaughter how to do a full-court play could shift the culture, she suggests. Dads, too, can be a driving force. “People really want a winning team to continue to be funded, but there are also more fathers of daughters now who see sports as a path to an athletic scholarship,” Morris explained.
Parker echoed this. After competing at Cal, she was a coach and tenured faculty member of the physical education department, before joining the athletic administration in 1976. At first, it was difficult to get the resources needed for the women’s programs. “A lot of people said, ‘Oh, we think it’s nice that you play, but we don’t want to donate to you,’” Parker said. Back then, only women donated. Now, she sees a lot of men donating because they have daughters who play sports.
This isn’t the only improvement she sees. Women in athletic departments are also more outspoken about what they need. While not all schools are in compliance with Title IX, clearly—she cited the Cal softball team’s lack of a locker room as an example—she thinks administrators are working harder to make it happen.
She’s also excited that Women’s NBA games are now on television.
“If we can just get more people to appreciate that women go through the exact same training, workouts, and everything … as the men,” Parker mused. At the same time, she noted, “I don’t think a lot of people still think we’re having tea parties instead of real competition.”
One of Seid’s best memories from her time on the basketball team was their game against a Taiwanese team that came to California in 1976. Cal got trounced: 102–40. But they weren’t upset, and after the game was over, the two teams danced in a huge circle on the Harmon Gym floor. Seid’s mom, who hadn’t come to any of her games before, was so thrilled that she hosted a banquet for the teams in Chinatown that evening. Now, Seid’s mom encourages her to play golf, her current sport of choice, and Seid emphasizes that she wouldn’t be who she is today without her parents.
All the women I spoke to for this story said that the lifelong friendships they formed are what they value the most from their athletic experience. Every year, Parker and her former tennis athletes still gather for a reunion. They go out to brunch, watch their old matches, and reminisce about packing 10 women into a single motel room on the rare occasions they traveled to a match.
Galloway, too, is grateful for the opportunity a full scholarship gave her. To this day, she is the only women’s basketball player from Cal to have her number retired. Her 2,320 career points was the program’s all-time record until Kristine Anigwe ’21 broke it in 2019. (Seid thinks there should be an asterisk on her numbers because there were no three-pointers when she played.) She also laments that she never got a chance to play in an NCAA tournament, which didn’t exist for women then.
“I love the situation today,” Galloway said, even while acknowledging the shortcomings. “I still think there’s a ways to go.”
The day before I talked with her, she had gone to Haas Pavilion and watched the current basketball team practice. “It renewed my passion and reminded me so much why I love the sport,” she said.
If she could have one item of gear now?
Margie Cullen, M.J. ’22, is the editorial and production assistant at California and previously competed in track and field for Cal.
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