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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 26 2009

On equal ground: Years after sex discrimination lawsuit, NDSU has made things right when it comes to Title IX

The sex discrimination case at North Dakota State that was settled in the late 1990s is out of sight. But gender equity will never be out of mind, athletic administrators say.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said athletic director Gene Taylor.

It wasn’t always right.

The 1972 federal law commonly known as Title IX hit NDSU in 1993 when former volleyball coach Jolyn Montgomery claimed inequities in budgetary and publicity issues. The result: The athletic department made the necessary adjustments as mandated by the Office of Civil Rights in Denver.

It appears NDSU is still in compliance.

All of the women’s coaches say they have no complaints and most, in fact, went out of their way to compliment the athletic department for providing them the necessary resources to be successful. For instance, when head softball coach Darren Mueller joined the Bison staff as an assistant in 1994, the lawsuit was a hot topic.

“I think we had one set of uniforms and one scholarship,” Mueller said.

Now the Bison have the 12 scholarships, the full NCAA allotment. Last spring, they won a Division I regional title and reached the NCAA Super Regional, once considered a near impossibility for a mid-major this far north.

That doesn’t mean NDSU is gender equity perfect. Taylor said the next step is to increase assistant coaching salaries for women’s sports.

But if that is a factor, assistants are not leaving over it.

Track and field shares assistants between the men’s and women’s teams. Desire’e Larson is in her 22nd year and Brent Parmer and Stevie Keller are in their ninth years. Jamie Trachsel is in her eighth season with softball and John Ross has been with the soccer program for seven years.

“And he’s turned down Division I head coaching offers,” said head coach Pete Cuadrado.

Still, not all is rosy on the national picture, said Laura Pappano, a journalist and author who has written books and blogs on gender equity.

“In my mind, Title IX opened some doors at a key time,” she said. “But it’s been slow progress and we certainly are not there yet.”

She cites differences in publicity, ticket prices, brochures and scheduling. NDSU women’s basketball can relate to the last one, playing its Summit League games on Saturdays and Mondays.

The Monday games are a poor draw and Bison coaches and administrators would like to get rid of them. The problem is the league mandates the schedule and most schools apparently prefer the Saturday-Monday setup for women.

“Should it be a Title IX issue? Absolutely,” Pappano said. “I don’t want to say Title IX should be used to enforce a basketball schedule. On the other hand, if you consider the spirit of Title IX and look broadly at schedule and promotions …”

Still, basketball head coach Carolyn DeHoff said all is well with her program. It has the maximum number of scholarships, the maximum number of assistant coaches and its travel budget is better than some major conference teams.

Head volleyball coach Erich Hinterstocker, whose team has dominated The Summit the last two years, said his program is probably the best-funded one in the league.

The vision to improve now, he said, is this: how can the Bison make more of an impact on a national scale?

Golf has the maximum six scholarships and the travel budget is good, said head coach Matt Johnson.

Certainly, all of the coaches have their wish lists. Mueller said he would like to see a bubble over the new Sprinturf football practice field. Cuadrado, whose team plays at Ellig Sports Complex, which is a top-notch track and field facility, would like a soccer stadium.

Basketball plays in the aging Bison Sports Arena and the prospect of either remodeling it or partnering with the Fargo Dome Authority to build an addition on to the Fargodome has stalled.

Looking back, it wasn’t as if NDSU was highly deficient in its treatment of women’s athletics in the 1990s, said women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn. The Bison had one of the most successful women’s programs in the 1980s and the early 1990s, especially in basketball, volleyball and track and field.

“It wasn’t blatant,” Dorn said of the Title IX complaints.

But there was work to be done. It perhaps was one reason NDSU had such a smooth transition from NCAA Division II to Division I.

Because of the Title IX complaint, the Bison already addressed issues of equity the NCAA required in the Division I reclassification.

“When we went through the certification process, that was a big issue,” Taylor said.

It’s an issue no longer.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546