Dr. Judith Sweet has lived, breathed and often pushed for the changes in women’s college athletics during the past 40 years as an athlete, coach, mentor and athletic director.
Sweet was regulated to participating in intramural sports at the University of Wisconsin where she graduated three years prior to the 1972 passage of Title IX, which banned the lack of opportunity that she experienced during her playing career. She went on to become the first female athletic director of a combined intercollegiate athletic program in the nation in 1975 at the University of California, San Diego. She ran both the men’s and women’s athletics there for 24 years.
Today, she continues to fight for more opportunities for women in the athletic field as co-director of The Alliance of Women Coaches, which she helped establish last year.
Sweet, who along with the late Dr. Mary Roby, a longtime University of Arizona athletic administrator, were the first women to join the United States Sports Academy’s Board of Trustees in 1984, is no stranger to firsts. She also served as the first female secretary-treasurer of the NCAA from 1989 to 1991 and then as the first female president of the NCAA from 1991 to 1993. In all, 20 different NCAA committees over the years have benefited from her contributions and broad impact on college sports.
“Judy’s professional life has been dedicated to equal opportunities for all women in sport,” says Celia Slater, The Alliance of Women Coaches co-director. “In fact, it’s hard to find an initiative that created positive change for women at the NCAA or in NACWAA that does not have Judy’s fingerprint on it.”
On the 40th anniversary of the landmark Title IX, Sweet reflects on its impact for The Sport Update and recognizes that there are still hurdles that must be overcome.
Following, the interview with Sweet is a link to a reprint of a commentary done in 1980 on Title IX by Roby, another pioneer in women’s sports.
The Sport Update: How would you describe the journey of women’s athletics under Title IX over the decades?
Judy Sweet: It’s difficult to fully describe the incredible impact Title IX has had on educational opportunities for girls and women in the past 40 years. First and foremost, career opportunities have grown from being a teacher, nurse or secretary to being almost unlimited. In respect to intercollegiate athletics, the change has been similar. Prior to Title IX, there were few organized sport opportunities for girls and women. In 1972, less than 30,000 women participated in college sports. Today that number is over 200,000 and more than 3 million girls participate in high school sports. While there has been significant progress, given that the law was passed 40 years ago, it is disappointing that there are very few college programs that fully comply with this landmark federal law.
The Sport Update: Are women’s and men’s athletics equal today?
Judy Sweet: I wish I could say that we have achieved true equity, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Women have 42% of the participation opportunities, and recruiting and operating budgets are well below those provided for men’s athletics. While institutions may face financial challenges, that doesn’t qualify as a reason not to fully meet the requirements of the law. Just as in a growing family, the pie may need to be cut up into more pieces or more resources need to be found, but all family members must be cared for equally and the same is true for the experiences provided to male and female student-athletes.
The Sport Update: Which female athletes do you look up to or admire?
Judy Sweet: I have great respect for many female athletes. The ones I admire the most are those who embrace their responsibilities to be role models and advocates for gender equity. Among those who have repeatedly stepped forward are Julie Foudy, Billie Jean King, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar, all of whom have been leaders in the Women’s Sports Foundation and have mentored future leaders.
The Sport Update: What is your assessment of the athletic ability of women playing today compared to 40 years ago?
Judy Sweet: As opportunities have increased, so too has the athletic ability of women athletes. Prior to the passage of Title IX, many women athletes were self-taught as they didn’t have the benefit of a coach or support system. It seems that with every passing year, we see new records set and amazing athletic performances that we might have dreamed about, but not envisioned 40 years ago. It is especially noteworthy to see the number of young girls who are enjoying sports opportunities and demonstrating strong athletic skills.
For more insight on Title IX’s impact on college sports, read a column written by the late Dr. Mary Roby, a longtime University of Arizona sports administrator, on “Title IX: Slowed by Tradition,” that first appeared in the USSA News in March-April 1980 and remains as relevant today as it was then.