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Women's scholarships on way up; still fall shy of target

CORVALLIS -- Oregon State University is doing a better job awarding women's scholarships than most NCAA Division I schools, despite a huge budget deficit and a men's program that is struggling too.

Last year, officials determined the athletic department had gone $8.2 million into debt. Many blamed the deficit on the increasing costs of providing more scholarships to female athletes.

But Oregon State still is making progress to meet federal goals, along with other Oregon universities, officials say.

Having more opportunities for women is important, said Mitch Barnhart, OSU's athletic director, who has a daughter interested in sports. The long-range effect is it piques interest in women's sports. If we become more competitive, then the visibility is there.

Efforts to build the women's program helped OSU recruit Erica Stephens, the sophomore captain of the swim team.

In her freshman year, Stephens broke the school record in the 400-meter individual medley. And just two weeks ago she helped OSU grab second place at the 21-team Speedo Cup.

This year, OSU hopes to award women athletes 14 more scholarships to meet the goals of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any activity at educational institutions that receive federal funds.

Under Title IX guidelines, if 45 percent of a university's students are women, about 45 percent of its athletes should be too.

But the rules go a step further and says that if 45 percent of athletes are women, then women should get 45 percent of the school's athletic scholarship budget.

A recent survey of 306 NCAA Division I schools found that only 36 colleges had met the goal, even allowing for a 5 percent margin of error.

According to its annual report to the federal Office of Civil Rights, 41 percent of last year's student athletes were women, but they received only 36 percent of scholarship money.

Two years ago, 36 percent of student athletes were women and they received 34 percent of scholarship funds.

Some critics argue the NCAA doesn't encourage schools to meet gender equity laws because scholarship limits make it difficult for colleges to offer an equivalent amount of money to women.

Squads like volleyball, soccer and gymnastics together can't make up for a whole football team.

The argument is (football) brings in a lot more money but it seems really strange that they give that many scholarships, said Jona Maukonen, an OSU soccer player from Medford.

There are nearly 80 guys on full ride and how many of them are real impact players? That's the main place where it's not fair. If there's 20 guys that start, they're up to third-string players that are on full ride.

Other universities have been forced to drop some men's teams because having them kept the schools' athletics programs predominantly male.

Portland State University dropped baseball this year so it could better meet gender equity laws. But the university had to add men's basketball when it moved up to Division I two years ago, which made it difficult for the university to comply with Title IX, said Anne McCoy, senior associate director of athletics at PSU.

Oregon State says things have improved since 1993, when the Office of Civil Rights reviewed the OSU program and found the school had failed to provide a fair number of scholarships to female athletes. Women comprised 40 percent of student athletes and received only 29 percent of scholarship funds.

It forced us -- in a good way -- to take a hard look at what we're doing and increase opportunities to women athletes, Barnhart said.