Small steps to significant strides: IU women's basketball and Title IX

More work to do

Despite the progress that's been made over 50 years, the current and former players said there's more to be made. One area is with the attitudes and rhetoric surrounding women's sports.

Price said that when she grew up, she was told that girls didn't do certain things. They were expected to take home economics classes, not play sports. So she had to play basketball with her male cousins. When she did get to play girls basketball, it was a six-on-six version: Two players stayed at one end of the court to play only offense, two players stayed at the other end to play only defense, and two players could move anywhere.

Butler, also familiar with six-on-six basketball, said the belief was that girls were unable to play the same style of basketball as men because they were not athletic enough.

Browne said similar beliefs still exist today.

Red and white banners for the IU women's basketball program hang from the raftersView print quality image
Banners representing success for the IU women's basketball team hang from the rafters of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

"A lot of the rhetoric that surrounds it is still the same," she said. "We're talking about being too dainty or being soft or not as strong or not as fit. There are still barriers we're trying to break down."

Browne said she played basketball with boys while growing up in Montreal, and she put in the same work as male players who aspired to play basketball at higher levels. While that might result in similar collegiate opportunities, Browne said men have more opportunities to play professional basketball and receive huge contracts.

The WNBA has just 12 teams and no minor league. The NBA has 30 teams plus an affiliated minor league with 29 teams.

"At the end of the day, we're both putting in the work, we're both putting in the sweat equity, we're both working hard," Browne said. "But there is so much of an imbalance."

Price said that imbalance means that women in college athletics have to rely on their degrees more than men.

Imbalance has been seen in other ways, too.

The NCAA came under scrutiny in March 2021 for the significant disparity in amenities afforded the men's and women's basketball players in their respective NCAA tournaments. A subsequent external review found the NCAA had acted with systemic gender inequity, had maximized the value of the men's tournament as the organization's primary funding source and perpetuated a narrative that women's basketball was unprofitable -- even though ESPN televised every game of the 2021 women's tournament. For this year's NCAA tournaments, the men and women received the same amenities.

"When we see what happened with the NCAA tournament last year and this year, suddenly in a year they were able to get us the same thigs as the men," Browne said. "Things don't take time; it takes attention."

For its part, IU is trying to be proactive in bolstering its women's athletics programs. Last year it announced the IU Women's Excellence Initiative for IU's female student-athletes and their athletics programs.

"The path forward has not always been fast, and it has not always been easy," said Scott Dolson, IU vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics. "We have come a very long way during these last 50 years, but there's still plenty of work that needs to be done. That reality is why we launched our IU Women's Excellence Initiative.

"Through this initiative and our long-standing commitment to our women's athletics programs, we look forward to celebrating many enormous accomplishments from our current and future female student-athletes who represent Indiana University and Hoosiers all across the country for many years to come."