Travel Equity for College Teams
All travel not created equal for college teams
By Tom Farrey
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Get above the tranquility of the green-gold acres of
corn as far as the eye can see, and Iowa can be a deceptively wicked place.
Sub-zero temperatures conspire on winter nights with winds that slash
across the plains like funny cars on an open track. Eventually, snow season
gives way to months filled with thunderstorms and tornados.
Rocky Marciano's life came to an end in one of
those cornfields when his single-engine plane
fell from the skies. The music ended there as
well for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the
Big Bopper, in another prop-plane crash. Later,
in 1985, three Iowa State runners died when
their seven-seat plane dropped into a
tree-lined neighborhood in Des Moines.
For many years, the Iowa women's basketball
team was entrusted to similar tiny aircraft. The
Hawkeye women flew to road games in a caravan
of four planes, none of them larger than a
nine-seater -- some of them without co-pilots.
"It was kind of scary," said Lindsey Meder, a
junior guard last season. "If something were to
happen to the pilot, I mean, what would we do?"
Players and coaches envied the men's team, which the school provided with larger,
more powerful charters. Planes big enough to hold the whole team and even give
many of the players their own rows to stretch out. Planes that, although often very
old, seemed to be made of more than paper when the Midwest winds kicked up.
"If gender equity is important anywhere, it should be in the area (of safety),"
said Angie Lee, who resigned last year as Hawkeyes coach after five seasons.
"That was tough for kids to swallow -- why we didn't get to fly on the same planes
as the men."
Equity is no longer an issue at Iowa. In an attempt to address an obvious
imbalance, the Hawkeye women this season began using the same national charter
broker as the men's team. They draw from the same fleet of 44- and 50-seat
But around the country, disparities remain in the ways that men's and women's
teams get from point A to point B. In some cases, it's a matter of safety. More
often, it's a matter of luxury; the men's team flies charter while the women's team
must catch commercial flights at out-of-the-way hubs.
"Coaches are talking about it," said Lisa Bluder, the new Iowa women's coach.
"They're saying that when they re-negotiate their contracts, they're going to ask
for more charter flights and so forth. They're not just talking about their
(coach's) financial package."
Travel budgets hint at the divide. Each year NCAA school fills out standard forms
on gender equity that detail how much is spent on travel, among other expenses,
for each team. ESPN.com requested the most recently filed reports -- those from
October 2000 -- from 50 of the most prominent basketball programs in the nation,
plus a few lesser known schools.
Of the 13 schools that shared those forms, 11 spent more on travel for their men's
basketball teams than their women's basketball teams, despite comparable squad
sizes. The most glaring disparities were at Maryland and Virginia, where roughly
twice as much was spent on the men for travel, a category that includes meals and
Iowa, before making the switch to larger charters, was right in line with that
trend: $347,430 on the men, $138,669 on the women, according to Larry Bruner,
associate athletic director.
Men's teams more often travel to far-flung locales such as early season
tournaments in Hawaii or New York. That partly explains the higher budgets at
some schools, said Valerie Bonnette, a San Diego-based consultant who works with
schools to evaluate their compliance with Title IX regulations that require
equitable accommodations for women.
Other schools simply figure they should be able to spend more on the men's team
than the women's team if the men, as often happens, make more money, Bonnette
said. However, that's "not an acceptable excuse under Title IX," she said.
Men's teams are increasingly getting around in high style. On occasion, elite
programs such as Duke even make use of the official charters of NBA teams when
those luxury jets -- with their full-reclining seats and on-board VCRs -- are
available. However, the women's team has yet to use those jets, which can easily
run more than $30,000 per trip.
"We've asked for pro charters but they tell me they haven't been available," said
Gail Goestenkors, coach of the Duke women's team.
Goestenkors is not complaining.
Before she arrived in 1991, coaches
were driving the Duke women to
road games in vans. She insisted
that at the very least, the team fly
commercial to conference games
that were more than three hours
away. Four years ago, they started
traveling by charter to those games,
usually using the same larger jets as
the men's team.
Progress is palpable -- and not just
at Duke. A string of big court
victories by plaintiffs in Title IX cases over the past few years has prodded many
schools to adjust their policies. For instance, Louisiana State's women's basketball
team began traveling in mid-sized charter jets more often after the school lost a
Title IX case in 1996 involving softball and soccer players.
"You get enough lawsuits flying," longtime LSU coach Sue Gunter said, "and it
opens people's eyes."
So, too, does a dead prop. By the start of last season, the Iowa veterans had come
to terms with everything that came with flying on what they considered their little
crop-dusters -- the regular bouts of anxiety, sickness and mid-air group prayer.
No airborne roller-coaster had broken this crew. Not yet.
But on the ground, they made their stand. As they waited on board to take off
from a commuter airport in Milwaukee after the season opener against Marquette
last season, one of the engines on their Piper Navajo had trouble starting. The lone
pilot swore the problem was minor, fixable, nothing that would keep them from
flying back to Iowa City that night.
But nothing seemed to work.
"We were just like, 'Get us off this plane,' " Meder said.
So off they marched, back into the airport. They waited there for one of the
other team planes to fly to Iowa and return to get them. The players got home
later than originally planned, rattled but safe -- and ever more envious of the men.