Saturday, December 23, 2000

Women rowers enjoying opportunity

        Katie Schatzel is suspicious of snooze alarms. She sets her clock for 4:45 a.m. and crawls out of bed before she can be seduced by a second helping of sleep.

        “If I hit the snooze,” she said, “I don't get up.”

        College rowers make the early bird seem like a slacker. Schatzel, co-captain of the intrepid crew at the University of Cincinnati, is often at work on the water at an hour when the typical university student is still recovering from the previous evening's exploits. She earns her scholarship money before the banks open for business.

        Women's rowing is a scholarship sport at UC for the first time this season, and its growth nationwide is a step beyond staggering. In the spring of 1991, the NCAA counted 12 schools competing in varsity women's rowing. Today, there are 136.

        The requirements of Title IX and the economics of gender equity necessitate that unprofitable men's programs be slashed to provide proportional opportunities for women. Because the numbers needed to develop a competitive women's rowing program closely approximate those of football, college administrators view it as a way to achieve equity overnight. An oar for Christmas
        Parents eager to fund a daughter's college education should consider giving her an oar for Christmas. Never in the history of college athletics has there been so much scholarship money available and so few athletes equipped to earn it.

        “There's not a lot of depth out there,” UC coach Tim Royalty said. “There are probably 100 to 150 good (high school) rowers in the whole country, and maybe 50 or 60 of them are full-scholarship candidates.”

        UC's rowing roster is composed largely of women who competed on the college's club team before the move to varsity status, but many schools are starting essentially from scratch. Some coaches are awarding athletic grants to women based on body type rather than rowing experience. This feeds the resentment of athletes in discontinued sports and bolsters the argument that Title IX is less about opportunity than social engineering.

True student-athletes
        Yet the result of the nationwide shift in athletic resources may include a more authentic class of student-athletes. UC's women rowers carry a 3.2 grade-point average in addition to their 60-foot carbon fiber boats. Generally speaking, they are in college for academic purposes, not to serve an apprenticeship for some professional sport.

        Schatzel has spent five years rowing at UC, the first four as an uncompensated member of the college's club team. The Lakota High School graduate already has earned a degree in earth sciences and is at work on another in elementary education. Last season, before UC rowing attained varsity status, she subsidized her schooling selling soap at a mall.

        Renae Fehring, a junior coxswain from Turpin High School, held two jobs last year to keep herself afloat. Landing a scholarship has enabled her to quit the jobs, concentrate on her studies and improve her grade-point average from 2.5 to 3.8.

        “It has definitely relieved a lot of stress, money-wise and time-wise,” she said Friday. “I've gone from almost being on academic probation to the honor roll. That's pretty good.”

        College sports succeed when they facilitate education. Ultimately, this is the only criterion that counts.



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