Cal A.D. Sandy Barbour Discusses How Title IX Has Helped Women’s Athletics

June 21, 2012 / Swimming

Sandy Barbour has served as Director of Athletics at Cal since the fall of 2004, overseeing a 29-sport program that annually rates among the best in the country in the Directors’ Cup rankings. During her tenure, the Golden Bears have captured 17 national team championships and 80 individual titles. Barbour’s professional career as a coach and administrator has included stops at Notre Dame, Tulane, Massachusetts and Northwestern.

Barbour graduated cum laude in 1981 with a B.S. degree in physical education from Wake Forest, where she was a four-year letterwinner and served as captain of the field hockey team. She also played two varsity seasons of women’s basketball. She earned advanced degrees at both Massachusetts (an M.S. in sports management in 1983) and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (an MBA in 1991).

What opportunities has Title IX afforded you in your career?
Based on when I was born in 1959 and with Title IX first coming to the forum in 1972 and then the evolution of Title IX, it has really created this culture in our country of it being acceptable for girls and women to compete in sports. Certainly, Title IX is significantly more impactful than just sports, but for me, that is what has been central to my life.
Pre-Title IX in 1967, I remember being denied the opportunity to play little league baseball. In high school, opportunities existed for me and my friends and my teammates. Then having the opportunity as a professional to coach field hockey and lacrosse, I was able to have an impact as a coach and an administrator on female student-athletes. Women’s programs have not only become a huge and significant part of college offerings, but more and more women are drawn towards college athletics, which I think played a huge role in me having an opportunity to sit in my chair today as the Director of Athletics at the University of California.

In general, how has Title IX played a role in creating opportunities for women?
It has not only made it acceptable, but has basically made it mandatory that girls and women have that opportunity. Whatever it is you are interested in participating for the most part, you are going to have that opportunity and then you have the chance to create something bigger and better. Title IX opened that door and it has been up to girls and women and those around them to create more opportunities.
I think the best thing that ever happened to Title IX is fathers who had daughters. Certainly, men and particularly fathers on behalf of their daughters – and certainly my father – played such a crucial role in Title IX expanding and having a true impact on opportunities for girls and women. This isn’t just about women.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Title IX?
I think the absolute biggest misconception is that Title IX only protects the opportunities of women and that Title IX is about giving things to women. If you read the law, Title IX protects the under-represented sex. I have said many times before that as we evolve, if you look at where colleges and universities are going in terms of their undergraduate populations, it is headed to skewing majority female. At some point, it is quite possible that men will become the under-represented sex and Title IX will protect their opportunities.
Another huge misconception is that Title IX is responsible for a reduction in men’s opportunities. I think the decisions that colleges and universities and high schools and other entities make are responsible for that. Title IX is about protecting and promoting opportunities for the under-represented sex. It is one of the reasons that I have been so proud of the University of California, Berkeley. Historically, Cal has met the opportunities for women by adding women’s programs and not doing it at the expense of men’s programs. The financial pressures of late have certainly led to some different looks at that, but again, fortunately in our latest financial struggles, those programs were saved thanks to a very passionate population, including those that felt very passionately about our women’s programs as well as our men’s programs. The structure of Title IX doesn’t require that institutions reduce men’s opportunities. It requires that they provide equitable opportunities to the women, as currently the under-represented sex, to what they are providing for the men. The preferable solution to that is to upgrade, increase and enhance the women’s opportunities. Reductions in men’s programs are not Title IX’s fault.

How has Title IX changed since its adoption in 1972?
It has evolved and it has ebbed and flowed. Like most things in this day and age, it is subject to some of the political waves and there have been administrations that have occupied the White House that have taken a deeper interest in attendance of equitable opportunities than other administrations have. There have been threats to the strength of Title IX before.
I do think it is of concern that there are certain Offices of Civil Rights regionally who handle things differently, and the interpretation of how one operates under Title IX is different by district. That has certainly evolved and it has not necessarily been straight-lined. I think all of us that care about opportunities, and that is not based on one sex of the other, need to continue to be very vigilant about fair and consistent application on what the law initially was meant to protect or defend. One of the things I struggle with is getting our young men and women to understand how far that has come and not take for granted what they have today. At the same time, particularly for young women, we need to understand that our work is not done.

How did you view Title IX as a student-athlete and later as a coach?
To be very honest with you, as a student-athlete, I didn’t know much about it. I started college in the fall of 1977 and I would say five years after it was implemented, it had very little impact on our programs. We got scholarships for field hockey at Wake Forest going into my senior year for the first time ever. That was around 1980, so eight years later, and I believe they were around two scholarships for a team of 30. That was probably the first time I became aware of Title IX. I am sure we were told that we were getting these scholarships “because of Title IX.”
As a coach, there is no doubt that there were discussions around it regarding what opportunities we did not have as a field hockey and lacrosse program “that the guys had.” I would say the decade of the 1980s was where there was a lot more spotlight on Title IX. As a coach, we had to make a decision on standing up for what was right for your student-athletes but doing it in a way that was respectful for the total program and whatever financial pressures that existed. We didn’t have a lot of resources at Northwestern in the 1980s.

How does Title IX play a role in your role as Director of Athletics at the University of California?
We are committed to providing a high quality student-athlete experience to our 850 student-athletes, period. We really focus on that every day. On a sport-by-sport basis, what does it take for this program to be successful, what does it take to meet our competitive goals, what does it take to meet the goals of providing an enriching experience for the student-athletes in this program and overall?
We are very vigilant on following the NCAA rules, the University rules and Title IX. It is part of our commitment to do things within the law and the rules. Even bigger than that, it is the right thing to do. We need to provide a high quality experience to each one of our student-athletes, regardless of their gender, regardless of where they come from.

What is your charge as the Director of Athletics to meet those expectations of Title IX?
It is not just expectations, it is the law. There are lots of other ways in which we are seeking to provide opportunities for our student-athletes. It is about making sure we are fully educated on the law and that we have systems and processes in place that ensure that we are constantly within the guidelines of the law.

How has the University of California provided enhanced opportunities for women?
You look at the number of female student-athletes that we provide opportunities for. Our female population of student-athletes is larger than a lot of people’s athletic departments combined men and women. If you are just looking at the number of young women that on an annual basis get an opportunity to compete at a really high level from a student-athlete experience standpoint at Cal, I think we certainly are providing some really significant opportunities. You then take that one step further and you look at the opportunities that those young women are getting and what they are doing with those opportunities. You look at our national championships in swimming, softball or rowing, or our female Olympians. We are doing this on the men’s side as well, but you look at the number of young women, both current and former Cal student-athletes, who are having an opportunity to shine on a national and international stage beyond Cal and are being promoted as these incredible scholar-athletes because of their dual devotion to both academics and athletics. I am really proud of the opportunities that we are providing to the young women that choose to come to Cal and take on that very challenging duality of academics and athletics.

Do you think the University of California is a good example to the nation of providing opportunities for female student-athletes?
I think we are one of a small handful of places in this country that provide this incredible opportunity for the right young man or woman who wants to accept the challenge in terms of the success we’ve had as students and as athletes who have come through this program. I think this program is one of those shining stars of providing great opportunities for a young woman who wants to have it all, get a world-class education and an opportunity to compete for a national championship or an Olympic gold medal or a spot in the WNBA or for whatever their aspirations are for life after their four of five years at Berkeley.

How proud are you of the tremendous success of both the men’s and the women’s programs have had here at the University of California during your tenure as Director of Athletics?
I don’t think it is just my tenure. I think Cal has had a long history and tradition of being ahead of the game in terms of opportunities for student-athletes.
We are talking about opportunities for female student-athletes, and I know the opportunity that exists here for a young woman who chooses to come here. I am very proud of what exists here tangibly in terms of what supports them day-to-day in their classroom and athletic pursuit. I know the attitude that persists here. I know the men and women who work in this department and support 850 student-athletes on a daily basis. I know that we have embraced everyone of our student-athletes. Coming here as a student-athlete is about having that opportunity to win a national championship, to win a gold medal, to exceed your expectations in the classroom and the athletic venue. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, it doesn’t matter what sport you play – the people here, the culture here are what makes it special.

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