BYU distance runner Courtney Wayment breaks the barrier while winning the national 3,000-meter steeplechase title by six seconds, Saturday, June 11, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Nate Edwards, Photo BYU)
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PROVO – Something special is happening with BYU women’s track and field, but it hasn’t started this year.
In the half century since the introduction of landmark legislation that changed the landscape of education and sports in the United States, the Cougars’ athletic department has been nearly unstoppable.
The most notable leap, perhaps, will come this year – and as Title IX turns 50 on Thursday, it’s only fitting to take a look back at last season the female Cougars held, winning national titles, breaking records and establishing historic marks. both on campus and beyond.
From national titles in cross country and track and field to soccer championships to the continued elevation of a women’s volleyball program that has been among the nation’s best for more than a decade, BYU is proving to be a school where female athletes thrive.
And in many ways, it all goes back to those 37 words written in 1972 that never mentioned sports.
“I don’t think you can talk about the past year, or even the past two years, without talking about the foundation,” Liz Darger, BYU’s senior associate athletic director and senior women’s associate, told KSL.com. “On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we think a lot about the history of women’s athletics at BYU.
“Look at foundational figures like Lu Wallace and Elaine Michaelis, and coaches over the years, who have laid the foundation for success in BYU women’s athletics. Success is nothing new, but in the past two years it looks like at one point – and I think it has a lot to do with our mindset in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic Many programs were hot on their heels, and it would have been easy to fold up our tents and go home But people We wanted to find a way to play and compete, and we decided to be agents that acted and not just objects that we acted on, we wanted to be intentional and deliberate, and our athletes did that. .”
Perhaps nowhere was that attitude more visible than during the Cougars’ recent track and field seasons. Over the past year, the program has racked up four national champions, more than two dozen All-Americans, nine conference titles, 10 school records and the first set of consecutive top-10 finishes in open-air competition. air since 2000.
But from another Sweet 16 appearance in women’s volleyball to cross-country titles to women’s soccer in the program’s first-ever College Cup championship, the BYU women have run the 2021-22 season faster than National hurdler champion Courtney Wayment in the final 200 yards in the fifth-fastest time in U.S. history.
“Thanks to Title IX and the many pioneers of women’s sport who came before us, Courtney and I are here today as national champions,” said BYU javelin thrower Ashton Riner, who won the first national title. in a women’s field event at BYU since 1992. “We want girls and women around the world to take advantage of the opportunities we’ve had.”
What is Title IX?
Ironically, the words “sports” and “athletics” are not among the 37 words uttering Title IX in the law for schools or any other educational program that receives government funding.
But there is no doubt that the original text, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, played a major role in the increased proliferation of women’s sport – in the amateur, collegiate and professional ranks alike – in the 50 years ago.
“No person in the United States shall, because of sex, be excluded from participation, denied benefits, or discriminated against in connection with any educational program or activity benefiting federal financial assistance,” the legislation reads.
The law had many effects on education, but the increase in women’s participation in athletics has skyrocketed since its inclusion. He blew up the NCAA landscape and launched numerous US-based professional leagues in basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse and more.
“There’s no doubt that fan or media support helps, but we have student-athletes and coaches who are going to worry about what’s under their control,” Darger said. “They’re going to pull their motivation from an intrinsic place, because they want to be the best.
“They want to compete and they want to win. They don’t let any perceived lack of attention support be a distraction from their goals. And as a result, the media attention comes, the fans come, the resources come, but they keep going. focus on that motivation that comes from within themselves to be the best they can be.”
It also takes work. While Title IX has led to an explosive expansion of athletic opportunities for women, it also has self-resolving limitations and imperfections.
Prior to Title IX, only 15% of college athletes were women. Today, 44% of playing opportunities go to women, with more than 3 million high school girls and 200,000 college students in the ranks.
There is still work to be done, however. Although there are opportunities to compete in collegiate athletics, a survey by USA Today found that women’s college programs still lag far behind their male counterparts in resources, funding, and personnel. Nearly 80% of educational institutions have yet to achieve full compliance, according to the survey.
One area narrowing the gap is the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness policy. Female athletes make up less than half of all college athletes, yet they are among the most connected and marketable in the age of social media. It’s a big reason why Jonathan Oliver, CEO of Provo-based tech company Smarty, recently pledged around $6,000 to each female BYU athlete to help with their training and class time in exchange for their rights. Non-exclusive NILs for use with company branding, promotions and other #SmartyAthletes events.
One year after the historic agreement, the return has been immense – not just for Smarty, but also for BYU’s female athletes.
“There are so many elements that come into play: the athletes themselves and their hard work cannot be overstated,” said Oliver, a BYU corporate sponsor who has seen interest in Smarty from recent graduates soar over the past year. “But then there are amazing coaches, which is a huge element. And NIL is just the icing on the cake; it was all going to happen anyway, but we wanted to come in and put some extra spotlight on it.
“The Cougarettes (22 times national champions) were dominant forward, football was a power forward. Everything was going in that direction, and we just wanted to emphasize that.”
But the athletic department also can’t do what it does without sponsorships like Smarty, Darger said.
“NIL has opened up a different way to help them support our athletes, but there are other traditional ways like corporate sponsorships and donations to help fund facilities and resources for our student-athletes,” a- she added. “We absolutely cannot succeed without them; we rely on Cougar Nation, from fans to those who give at the highest level. It cannot be understated how critical it is that we have people willing to invest in our students. -athletes, and particularly in women’s athletics.”
‘Sorority’ at BYU
Moments after Jennifer Rockwood led BYU women’s soccer to its first-ever College Cup semifinal with a 4-1 win over South Carolina at South Field, the Cougar coach of more than 30 years was kicked out of the field.
It wasn’t by his players or rows of students and supporters celebrating his achievement. It was a small crowd, made up of other female BYU coaches — all women — as they shouted and yelled and Ole’d to the coach who led women’s soccer in the NCAA in 1995 and regularly built the program since.
It was also the kind of sisterhood BYU’s female athletes have shown every day since last fall, when these coaches brought their female teams together at BYU to talk about their teams’ shared values, programs and sponsored university. by the Church of Jesus. Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
There is strength in numbers, and even more in the ties that unite. When one athlete succeeds, they all succeed.
“There’s definitely a sisterhood there,” said Darger, who also serves on the young women’s general advisory council for the church. “And part of that has been very intentional efforts by the coaches of our women’s teams, like coach Diljeet Taylor (cross country and track and field), Heather Olmstead (women’s volleyball), Jen Rockwood (soccer), Holly Hasler (tennis) and Carrie Roberts (golf), and more, have made very intentional efforts to bring their athletes together.
“Part of it happens because you’re women who can relate. But there was also a very intentional effort, and I give a lot of credit to our female coaches who tried to help them create opportunities, too. well . We see the effects of it.”
This brotherhood also extends to the fans.
When BYU women’s basketball star Paisley Harding showed up to every game of her senior season, she was looking for young Payton in the stands, with the girl watching her as she led the Cougars to their highest ranking in program history, a rare WCC regular season title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
But she was not alone; as thousands of fans flocked to the Marriott Center to experience Provo’s best-kept secret in 2021-22, they were greeted by a grateful team, a willing host and a team ready to prove that women’s sports can be just as exciting than that of their male counterparts.
“The great thing about BYU women’s basketball games is how they interact with their fans,” Oliver said. “The men’s team is so busy, with so many people – good luck. But every time I took my kids to women’s games, we spent a lot of time with Cosmo, with each player; it was great. And that that’s what you get at women’s games.”