A college football coach, the joke goes, is asked why he's
opposed to equality in his school's athletic department. "I'm
not," he protests. "I'm a firm believer that all the pom-pom
girls should be equally pretty."
Consistent with his contrarian reputation, Florida football
coach Steve Spurrier takes a far more progressive stance toward
gender equity than the coach in the joke. Not only does he
encourage his players and staff to follow Lady Gators teams, but
he also has cut practices short and ordered his guys to join him
in watching a women's tennis or soccer match. Once, when
disappointed by the performance of his team, he said, "We need
our players to start showing some of the mental toughness of
[Lady Gators tennis player] Andrea Farley." Doesn't exactly
conjure up memories of Woody Hayes.
Spurrier's appreciation of women's sports is shared by the rest
of the university. When the Lady Gators' soccer team played its
inaugural game, in September 1995, 4,442 fans showed up, the
most ever for a regular-season NCAA women's soccer match. Only a
few months before, Florida had approved the construction of a
1,200-seat, $2.6 million state-of-the-art softball stadium,
replete with a Camden Yards-style pavilion behind home plate.
And that was before a coach had been hired or a player recruited
for the softball team. Florida is also the only school in the
country with a practice facility used exclusively for women's
volleyball. "It's not just the financial resources, it's how
much people care about all sports here," says women's volleyball
coach Mary Wise, who in late January turned down an offer of
more money to coach fellow volleyball power Texas.
The following aspect of Wise's story neatly distills Florida's
passion for women's sports: As associate athletic director Greg
McGarity was leaving a Florida Quarterback Club meeting the
night before Wise announced her decision not to take the Texas
job, a gaggle of football boosters cornered him. Although the
Gators were getting ready to enter the final, frantic week of
the football recruiting period, the boosters had another
concern. "What we want to know is this," said one. "What are you
guys doing to keep Mary Wise?"
B/W ILLUSTRATION: MICHAEL CUSTODE [Drawing of women playing soccer]