There was a chance of rain in the forecast for Monday night’s Civil War at Gill Coliseum. Back when women’s basketball first gained traction in the state of Oregon, that could have been an issue for the Ducks and Beavers.
Sally McInturff Hersman was a freshman basketball player at Oregon in 1972, the year Title IX was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender. The law would lead to big changes for women’s athletics, but there was no overnight transformation for players of that era.
Women still shared uniforms and crammed into vans when they played on the road.
They did not have private locker rooms, and they played in facilities inferior to those used by the men.
Instead of McArthur Court, the Oregon women played most of their games in the Gerlinger Hall Annex, where the pull-out bleachers usually contained no more than 100 fans. Shinsplints were a common ailment at Gerlinger because the wood floor was laid directly onto concrete.
Women’s facilities in Corvallis were no better. One year, Hersman said, the women’s Civil War was postponed because of a rain shower.
“We were supposed to play at Oregon State, but we got rained out because their old gym had a leak in it,” she said.
It was a far different scene when the No. 2 Ducks faced the No. 12 Beavers on Monday night at Gill Coliseum. A sellout crowd of more than 9,000 fans saw OSU prevail, 67-62, on top of the 12,364 who filled Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene on Friday for the first installment of the Civil War, a 77-68 Ducks win.
When Peg Rees played at Oregon from 1973 to 1976, the campus was buzzing about the Kamikaze Kids, the nickname for the men’s teams coached by Dick Harter. Women saw the difference in how their programs were treated, but bridging the gap seemed an impossible task.
“We absolutely realized we were second-class citizens in terms of athletics,” said Rees, a multisport athlete in volleyball, basketball and softball. “We weren’t activists about it, because it was the status quo. It’s what we knew.
“We’d roll our eyes at it and think this wasn’t fair, but we didn’t have a sense of stirring the pot about it much back then.”
Title IX brought the promise of a level playing field, but not right away.
Elwin Heiny coached the Oregon women from 1976 to 1993. When he started, the school awarded no scholarships and coaches were not allowed to recruit off campus. The team consisted of whoever happened to show up in the gym for the first day of practice.
Eventually Heiny’s program received a single scholarship, which he divided among three players. Changes were always incremental, he said, and they did not happen without a struggle.
“I probably burned more bras than some of the women,” Heiny said. “We fought for a lot of things.”
The fight reached the courts in 1977 when the parents of two players, sisters Cathy and Nancy Aiken, filed a complaint against the university alleging unequal treatment for women’s sports.
Oregon passed a state law, Chapter 204, in 1975 that mirrored the federal requirements enacted by Title IX. The Aikens filed a grievance claiming discrimination in the overall competitiveness of men’s and women’s programs, and specifically in the areas of transportation, officiating and coaching staffs.
An examination of the complaint found that in 1977, Oregon spent $413,768 on men’s basketball and $24,171 on women’s basketball, including only $100 for equipment and supplies, according to an account of the case published in the Journal of College and University Law.
The case, known as Aiken v. Lieuallen, eventually reached the Oregon Court of Appeals, which reversed a ruling from the State Department of Higher Education and ruled in favor of the Aikens. A similar case, Peterson v. Oregon State University, was filed in 1980 and led to OSU implementing changes in how it administered women’s sports.
The Aikens played one season at Oregon before transferring to Arizona State. Heiny said the case led to changes in the way Oregon funded women’s sports, though it also created pressure for coaches to cover the additional costs through fundraising.
“Change wasn’t that easy,” Heiny said. “You had to wait for things to happen. The suit, I do think, accelerated it.”
Heiny has not been to a game since Matthew Knight Arena opened in 2011, but he is not surprised to see the Ducks drawing well.
“I think they’re doing a great job and they clearly have an outstanding team,” Heiny said. “Eugene will get behind a winner easily. Sometimes they don’t like losers, but they do get behind a winner.”