NCAA News Archive - 2007

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A historic first
Women Final Four would not enjoy today stature without 1982 tip-off

Nov 9, 2007 5:20:44 AM

By Kat Krtnick
The NCAA News

The significance of a first is that subsequent events follow. Setting the standard for the rest of time, a first is a memorable and powerful measurement to which all of its kind will be compared.

The 1982 NCAA Division I Women Basketball Championship was an exceptional first -- one that would ultimately transform the landscape of athletics for every future generation of young women.

It was the first visual sign of the NCAA commitment to women basketball,said Beth Bass, chief executive officer of the Women Basketball Coaches Association. he championship marked a new chapter for collegiate women basketball.

The actual administering of the 1982 women basketball championship was a catalyst for many other historic firsts for women athletics including the first time the championship bracket was announced over live television and the first time an NCAA women championship was fully televised.

The news media also began to take interest in women basketball when Mel Greenberg, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, introduced the first women top-20 poll in 1982.

The WBCA held its inaugural convention in conjunction with the first championship in 1982. Ninety-nine members attended that first year, and 25 years later, the WBCA has grown into a 5,000-member organization.

All of those firsts instilled hope in women who yearned to participate and be appreciated in intercollegiate athletics.

A last for the AIAW

A time for firsts also creates a time for lasts. Although the 1982 NCAA championship yielded many firsts,the NCAA was not the first organization to support women athletics. The National Association for Girls and Women in Sports founded the first women basketball committee in 1899, and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was formed in 1971.

The AIAW was the first all-purpose organization for women intercollegiate athletics. It focused on the experience of the female student-athlete and committed itself to growing and cultivating the character of women in sport.

While the AIAW was the launching pad for women athletics, the NCAA saw opportunity in offering championships for women.

Once the NCAA decided to proceed with its first women championship in 1982, the AIAW still ran its own women championship the same year. The AIAW tournament was hosted in Philadelphia and showcased Texas and Rutgers in the final game. For that one year, colleges were forced to choose to between the NCAA and the AIAW. In fact, the actual championship games were played on the same day at the same time.

It year also marked the last of the AIAW. The transition from the AIAW to the NCAA was a time that posed many questions and challenges, but the NCAA ultimately had a formula for success.

Before 1982, the NCAA had overseen only men championships. With the implementation of women championships, Nora Lynn Finch, associate head coach and assistant director of athletics at North Carolina State University, was selected as the first NCAA Women Basketball Committee chair. Today, Finch remains at North Carolina State as the senior associate athletics director/senior woman administrator.

Finch, the youngest member on the committee, was supported by an all-star cast. With the mentorship and experience of Old Dominion University AD Jim Jarrett and NCAA Assistant Executive Director Ruth Berkey, Finch led the charge into NCAA uncharted territory.

The committee had the responsibility to carry the flag of women athletics into a new arena. The success of that championship would determine the future of women sports in the NCAA,Finch said, noting the committee realized the gravity of its mission.

The host for the inaugural championship was Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia. Maryland, Cheyney State, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech composed the first Women Final Four.

The March 26 and 28 games were played in the Scope Fieldhouse a physical education facility where students attended classes. Wooden bleachers lined the court and lighting was dim. The setting had the ambiance of a high school gymnasium.

In the semifinals, top-ranked Louisiana Tech defeated Tennessee, 69-46, and Cheyney State outscored Maryland, 76-66.

More than 9,500 tickets were sold for the final, but only 7,000 fans attended. Louisiana Tech recovered from an early first-half deficit to defeat Cheyney State, 76-62.

Sonja Hogg, the 1982 head coach at Louisiana Tech, knew this first would forever impact the culture of females in intercollegiate athletics. It was a very special time for the coaches and players to be part of this historic event. And once history is made, there is no changing it,she said.

Growth and expansion

Twenty-five years later, the atmosphere of the NCAA Division I Women Basketball Championship has been significantly enhanced. From a physical education fieldhouse with wooden bleachers to a big-league stadium with tens of thousands of fans, the Women Final Four is no longer just about the games it is a week-long celebration of women basketball.

Festivities such as Hoop City, musical entertainment, comedians, influential speakers and multiple family-oriented exhibits supplement the Women Final Four. The host cities provide educational and inclusive activities that highlight challenges facing women and girls. Now a national event, the Women Final Four weekend generates millions for the host city local economy.

In addition to state-of-the-art facilities, brand-name equipment and multimillion-dollar sponsorships, the level of athleticism and talent of the players also has significantly evolved since 1982. Previously, women basketball was a winter sport, but today female basketball student-athletes train year-round lifting weights, conditioning, and attending open gyms, meetings and off-season practices.

The 1982 NCAA championship also prompted significant sponsorship growth. In 1982, only 705 colleges and universities sponsored women basketball for about 9,600 student-athletes, compared with 1,025 institutions in 2005 and more than 14,600 student-athletes.

As the participation numbers and interest in women athletics grew, other entities began to pay attention. During the 1982 championship, for example, just two media members attended the press conference. Now, reporters are vying for credentials. Apparel companies such as Nike and Adidas have actively invested marketing and advertising resources for women athletics as well.

The increased support has increased the visibility of women basketball. Bass, a former marketing executive at Nike, has witnessed the growth firsthand. hen I started, the goal of women basketball campaigns was to evoke sentiment and emotion, often showcasing gender equity and Title IX. Slowly the mindset of Title IX seeped in and ads for women athletics progressed from initial themes of empowerment and entitlement to product concepts and sport-specific messaging,said Bass.

Today, Nike is continuing to strengthen the image and impact of women athletics through its thletecampaign a platform created to bolster respect for women as athletes.

A landmark first

In 1982, the nation started paying attention to women basketball. In addition to expanded media exposure and endorsements, fan attendance and appreciation for women basketball have also continued to grow. The 1982 tournament totaled 66,924 attendees, compared with the record 334,587 fans on hand in 2003.

Although women basketball has made tremendous strides since its legendary days in the AIAW and the first NCAA championship, the sport still has its challenges.

The 1982 NCAA Women Basketball Championship set the stage for the growth of women basketball and demonstrated the extreme high level of skill in women basketball,said NCAA Vice President for Division I Women Basketball Sue Donohoe. ut today we still need to continue creating support and awareness of the game and ensure that the purity of the game is maintained.

That purity,along with the honed skills and athleticism of student-athletes, is what has and will continue to lure fans and and inspire young girls to strive for greatness.

The 1982 Women Basketball Championship is one of the most significant landmarks in all of women athletics history, said Finch. he NCAA brought credibility to women championships. This event was more than just a stepping stone it was mega leap into women athletics.





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