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Celebrating women in college sports

In 1866, Vassar College formed the first all-female collegiate athletics team.

In nearly 150 years since, the opportunities for women to compete in sports, particularly in college, have expanded exponentially.

In 1901, Spalding published the first women’s sports guide, containing the rules for women’s basketball. Then, in 1927, women competed in track and field and swimming events at the Collegiate World Championship in Rome, marking the first international competition for female student-athletes.

Women continued to steadily break down barriers in athletics. In 1972, the federal government ratified Title IX, which requires that higher education institutions provide equal opportunities to both women and men and catalyzed the exponential growth of women’s athletics.  At the time, approximately 31,000 women were competing in college sports, with a collective total of only $100,000 available to them nationally via athletics scholarships.

By 1981, the NCAA sponsored championships in 12 women’s sports: basketball, cross country, fencing, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball and outdoor track and field. More than 74,000 women were competing in college sports on 4,776 teams.

The progress was only the beginning.

Today, nearly 208,000 women spread across 10,322 teams compete in college sports – the highest number ever.  NCAA member colleges and universities provide approximately $1.2 billion each year in athletics scholarships for women, a number that has nearly doubled in just 10 years.  

The NCAA now sponsors a total of 21 sports for women. Bowling, ice hockey, indoor track and field, rifle, rowing, skiing, sand volleyball, soccer and water polo were added through the last three decades.   

And the value of women’s sports extends well beyond the playing field. Sports unlock doors for women to access higher education – in fact, 14 percent of all female student-athletes are first-generation college students. 

Indeed, female college student-athletes are succeeding in the classroom, on the field and in life.

With an overall Graduation Success Rate of 88 percent and high national Academic Progress Rates in each sport, women have seen steady growth in their academic achievements.

In 1991, the NCAA established the Woman of the Year award, which recognizes recently graduated female student-athletes for outstanding achievements in academics, competition, leadership and service.  The 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced Oct. 19 at a ceremony in Indianapolis.

Most importantly, the Woman of the Year finalists represent the thousands of female student-athletes who have gone on to find professional success after their playing days are over. Just like their male counterparts, female student-athletes graduate and go on to be doctors, Olympians, film directors, and leaders throughout society.



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