Illinois State marks 50 years since Title IX changed women’s athletics
Jill Hutchison was coaching the Illinois State women’s basketball team in 1972 when Title IX became law. Hutchison, who is in multiple sports halls of fame and is considered a pioneer in women’s athletics after decades as a coach and broadcaster, said it took time to realize the full impact Title IX would have on college athletics.
“I think it was a bit of an accident in terms of how it impacted athletics and women’s sports,” said Hutchison, noting a primary intent of the landmark gender-equity law was to get more women into professional schools in higher education.
“Athletics became a byproduct that I don’t think anyone anticipated and it probably impacted sports programs for women more than any other aspect,” she said, adding progress was slow.
ISU didn’t offer athletic scholarships for women until 1978. Hutchison said the law has greatly helped women's sports, but change was hard at first became the men's programs had to accommodate.
“At ISU, there were only a couple of gyms, McCormick and Horton at the time. For the women to come into Horton, they had to lose practice time. For the women to get more money from student fees, the men had to lose the money,” Hutchison said.
Some schools have blamed Title IX for cuts to men’s programs, including at ISU. In the 1990s, the university dropped wrestling and men’s soccer and added women’s soccer to conform with Title IX requirements. Hutchison said men's sports programs were eliminated at ISU and elsewhere because of the outsized investments schools had placed into their football programs.
“The reality continues to be how money is distributed within an athletic department,” Hutchison said. “I think women’s athletics and Title IX got blamed for a lot of cuts (to men’s programs)."
Hutchison called it “sad” that it took a social media shaming during the 2021 women’s basketball tournament to get the NCAA to provide reasonably comparable training facilities for male and female athletes.
“So often, so many of those things are happening and they are shoved under the rug so that people don’t notice them,” she said, adding many coaches are hesitant to complain for fear of losing their jobs.
Hutchison noted there's still a major gap in broadcast coverage between men's and women's athletics. She said more media attention for women's sports would make them more marketable.
ISU plans to host a series of events in late June to mark the 50-year anniversary of Title IX June 24-26. That includes a banquet and a leadership seminar that will include live conversations with ISU student-athletes — past and present — who have benefited from Title IX over the last half century.
Even though Hutchison started coaching shortly before Title IX took effect, she credited her predecessors who, she said, fought the “ugliest battles” in ensuring female students had opportunities to participate. She cited ISU Athletics Percy Hall of Fame inductees Esther French, Laurie Mabry and Phebe Scott for helping to lay the groundwork to make sports more equitable for future generations. She also credited university administration for supporting their cause.
Hutchison also helped pay that access forward by speaking to Congress and the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to push for more gender parity in the way college sports are funded.
“You didn’t think about what you were doing, you just did it because you knew it was the right thing to do,” Hutchison said.