The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, May 05, 1998, RETROSPECTIVE, Page 2, Image 2

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    Matt Miller/DN
NU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR BILL BYRNE has added three varsity women’s sports since his term began six years ago. All of the varsity women’s sports except bowl
ing are represented in the photo.
Title IX athletics
prospering under
guidance, council,
support of Byrne
By Shannon Heffelfinger
Senior Reporter
Small drops of rain dripped onto Bill
Byrne’s shoulders. One by one they fell,
barely dampening his suit jacket as he con
centrated on the scene unfolding before
him at the Abbott Sports Complex.
Rebecca Hornbacher, the goalkeeper of
the nationally ranked Nebraska soccer
team, lunged to her right, protecting the
Cornhuskers’ lead as the ball bounced off
her outstretched arms.
Byrne clapped his hands and smiled.
NU’s athletic director of six years created
the soccer program in 1994. It represented
an important step in Nebraska’s plan to
provide equal opportunities for women in a
age when Title IX often rules athletic
Four years after its birth, the baby of
Byrne’s 24-sport athletic department has
grown into one its most successful mem
bers, emerging in just three years as a
national power. /
A gust of wind swept across the field
and dark clouds scattered through the sky.
One rain drop became two, and two
became three until hundreds of drops
poured onto the field and drenched specta
tors. Soon a rain storm sent the fans fleeing
for their cars.
But Byrne stayed.
He always stays.
Nebraska basketball player Kate
Benson, who, like Byrne, sat soaked in the
stands during that soccer game, remem
bers another example of Byrne’s commit
ment to his women’s athletic programs.
“At the beginning of the (1997-98) sea
son we were playing Connecticut in the
NIT finals (in Storrs, Conn.),” Benson
said. “It was a huge game for our program.
There were about 15,000 screaming
UConn fans there. It was the biggest crowd
we had ever played in front of.
“And there was our No. 1 fan, Mr.
Byrne, sitting behind our bench and cheer
Nebraska’s No. 1 fan is also the No. 1
reason its women’s athletic teams have
enjoyed an increased amount of success in
recent years.
When Byrne arrived at Nebraska six
years ago, the female side of a football
dominated department suffered from a
lack funds and resources and failed to meet
the requirements of Title IX.
So on June 26, 1992, Byrne dedicated
himself to improving the state of women’s
athletics at Nebraska.
He promised to bring a family atmos
phere to the Huskers and to kill resentment
among the sexes with internal support to
all sports.
He preached equality to athletes and
coaches. He worked with the NU market
ing staff to promote Husker women’s
He committed $4.15 million to the
cause during the 1992-93 school year.
During his tenure, spending on women’s
athletics has skyrocketed to $8.58 million,
a 106 percent increase.
As a result, Nebraska women’s athlet
ics have vaulted past their national peers -
thanks in part to Byrne, a 52-year-old
Idaho native who made a good on a
promise few thought he could keep.
In the beginning
When Byrne arrived at Nebraska in
1992 after a 10-year stmt at the University
of Oregon, the challenges of managing a
$30 million athletic department awaited.
* *
He started coed picnics and karaoke
nights. Byrne also volunteered his face as a
target in pie-throwing contests, because he
“just wanted the athletes to have fun
Byrne asked Brown University vice
president and legal counsel Beverly
Ledbetter to study the climate for women
athletes at UNL. In April 1997, after con
ducting 30 confidential interviews with
female student-athletes, she delivered a
positive evaluation.
Former pitcher and current NU
Softball Coach Rhonda Revelle said the
social changes implemented by Byrne
have had a dramatic impact.
“It is absolutely better than when I was
an athlete here,” said Revelle, who played
from 1981 through ’83. “There is so much
inclusiveness. The
It was the biggest crowd we had
ever played in front of And there
was our No. 1 fan, Mr. Byrne, sitting
behind our bench and cheering
Kate Benson
NU basketball player
women eat at the training
table. They get the acade
mic counseling and the
same support, and the
budget increase has been
“When I was an ath
lete, I don’t think we even
knew that there was a
training table.”
Jenny Smith, the
catcher on the NU
Softball team, agreed.
But after his first trip to NU’s Hewitt
Center, Byrne knew his first order of busi
He dismantled the walls that existed
between men and women at the facility by
simply removing a transparent screen. The
screen separated the two at the training
“The custom and practice between men
and women athletes was more separated,
and I wanted it to be inclusive,” Byrne said.
“I wanted the athletes to care about each
But off-the-field events threatened to
destroy Byrne’s efforts.
On Dec. 5, 1995, Lawrence Phillips,
the football team’s starting I-back, was
found guilty of trespassing and third
degree misdemeanor assault for the Sept.
10 attack of Kate McEwen, a junior on the
basketball team.
“We really had to look into our souls
because that was a male athlete causing
harm to a female athlete,” Byrne said. “We
had a lot of discussion internally that no
one ever heard about. We’ve made a lot of
effort to grow as a department by educat
ing our athletes about violence, and I think
it’s been well received.”
After the incident, Byrne worked hard
er to create his “family atmosphere."
He reached the goal, he said, by provid
ing an environment in w hich it could grow'.
The relationship
between us and him is not an athlete vs.
athletic director thing,” Smith said. “The
relationship is very good. He’s really open
minded. He comes to our games and our
Student-Athlete Advisory Board meetings,
and he makes himself really visible.”
Budget breakdown
But any discussion of equality in an
athletic department reaches far beyond a
training table or a pie-throwing contest.
Budgets are the bottom line in the success
of women’s athletics.
Title IX redefines budgets, and the bot
tom line has grown hazy.
All universities strive to comply with
the three defined sections of the gender
equity legislation: discrimination in inter
ests and abilities; discrimination in oppor
tunities; and proportionality.
Nebraska, one of few schools to com
ply with the first two categories, cannot
meet the proportionality guidelines
because of the large number of male walk
on athletes.
“If 45 percent of our students at the
university are female, then 45 percent of
the athletes must be female,” Byrne said.
“So what do you do after that? Tell every
one else who wants to try out for a team
Please see BYRNE on 17