It seems everybody is hailing the University of Utah's entry into the Pac-12 athletic conference as a boon to the university, the state and Utahns in general. But Utah women, especially, will benefit by association with the other 11 institutions and the conference's legacy of treating women student-athletes, coaches and administrators the same as it treats men.
The Pac-12 is celebrating a quarter century since it broke with college athletic tradition and began recognizing 10 women's sports in the 1986-'87 season. It now sponsors 11. The conference was way ahead of most others when the landmark Title IV law went into effect in 1972, requiring all institutions that receive federal support to make athletic participation equal for women and men. Title IV opened doors for women that had been closed for centuries, but the Pac-12 schools embraced the notion of athletic equality long before it was mandated.
The Pac-12, then Pac-10, had already established a commitment to fostering women's athletics when many other schools were opposing the new law or dragging their heels in implementing it, saying it was too expensive and would hurt the men's programs. So it was no surprise that, when the law finally succeeded in expanding opportunities for women's teams to compete nationally, Pac-10 schools were ready.
And the preparation paid off. The league has won 113 national titles in the past 25 years, including multiple championships every year. And the conference has produced some of the finest women athletes in the country: Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin in swimming, Lisa Fernandez and Jennie Finch, softball; Julie Foudy, soccer; Florence Griffith-Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, track; Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller, basketball; Annika Sorenstam, golf; and Logan Tom and Kerri Walsh, volleyball.
Utah's tradition of excellence among its women athletes and coaches will fit right in. The U. has already produced many fine women's teams, including its vaunted gymnastics squad and competitive basketball, volleyball and soccer teams. Utah's female coaches, too, have established reputations for excellence. Retired basketball coach Elaine Elliott has one of the top win records in the nation, and volleyball coach Beth Launiere is also recognized among the best.
In one area, however, the U. has some catching up to do. Salaries paid to women coaches and assistant coaches lag far behind the averages for other Pac-12 schools. That disparity will have to change if the U. is to be competitive in its new conference.