Last month, a firestorm of criticism erupted after players shared images of a single rack of dumbbells and a stack of yoga mats provided for participants in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in San Antonio — a stark contrast to the state-of-the-art, custom-built weight room available to men’s basketball players in Indianapolis.
It exposed the blatant double standard in college athletics and renewed demands for reform from female athletes, coaches and even politicians. An often forgotten chapter of college athletics offers hope that such reform is possible.
Before the first women’s NCAA championships in 1981, women’s intercollegiate athletics were led by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). At its peak, the AIAW was the largest intercollegiate athletic governing body, boasting over 970 member colleges and universities. Created by female physical educators, the AIAW believed that athletics should first and foremost enhance students’ educational experiences. This approach holds promise not just for rectifying the gender imbalance in college athletics, but also for addressing the exploitation of athletes that calls the very future of collegiate sports into question.