This Sunday, the University of New Hampshire--the alma mater of me and Ebuz--is honoring the first coach of the women's intercollegiate ice hockey team, Russ McCurdy. The team is honoring him this weekend by dedicating the remaining arena gallery in his name. Local paper Foster's Daily Democrat profiled McCurdy in yesterday's edition. The article offers a glimpse into the early days of intercollegiate women's ice hockey and, by extension, though not explicitly, into the early days of Title IX.
UNH has one of the oldest intercollegiate women's hockey programs in the country. Before McCurdy was hired as head coach in 1977, the team had been, according to Foster's, a "rag-tag UNH club team." In 1977 Title IX was five years old. Its application to athletics was affirmed but the details still required clarification. The regulatory three-prong policy that regulated participation equity was not yet written. Nevertheless, schools like UNH, Providence College, and a handful in the Ivy League started fielding women's ice hockey teams at the intercollegiate level. In its first four seasons, UNH went undefeated at 72-0-1, a phenomenon explained in part by the shallow pool of competition. UNH had "tougher practices than games," which compelled McCurdy to sometimes "nudge" prospects in the direction of other schools. Women's hockey continued to develop during Coach McCurdy's tenure, but his career record of 264-36-11 suggests that the sport was still short of depth.
It's a different world today. There are 33 NCAA division I women's hockey teams and another 43 Division III programs. The last six NCAA champions have all come from the western division, comparatively younger programs. In short, to borrow arguably the most overused phrase from any sports movie: if you build it they will come. This is a concept that has everything to do with Title IX. Prong three states that an institution is in compliance if it has met the needs and interests of the student population. But in 1977 would a survey of the student population at UNH necessarily have shown that there was enough of an interest in women's hockey to start an intercollegiate team? Maybe--given that there was already a club team, but maybe not. But how much interest needs to be expressed?
Prong three, weakened by the "clarification" that allows for email surveys and no minimum response level, is open to interpretation and fails to consider that opportunity--like the one that UNH provided in 1977--can and should come first.
This weekend's event also forces us to consider some of the downsides to Title IX. After Title IX, coaching women's teams became more lucrative and more men took positions as head coaches. For clarification, I am not suggesting that McCurdy was not immensely talented or that male coaches are less qualified but the influx of men has pushed women out of coaching positions.
I am not going to dwell on the negative given that this event is and should be a true celebration of women's ice hockey. Unfortunately we won't be there on Sunday but we will be rooting on the Wildcats tomorrow night at Bright Arena in Cambridge.