COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois walked through an airport earlier this month and couldn’t help notice something happening around her. It’s normal to see passengers staring at their phones, but she took a closer look and discovered many were watching the same thing: the Women’s College World Series.
“Five years ago,” she said, “we might not have seen that.”
While Oklahoma slugged its way to a second straight softball national championship, TV ratings for the WCWS continued to signal the sport’s popularity — and trended similarly to other recent women’s college championship events.
Many around college sports and sports media paused this week to commemorate Thursday’s 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that changed sports forever and in some ways, gave events like the WCWS the national platform they now command. Title IX, enacted in 1972, required federally funded educational institutions to provide equal opportunities to males and females and over time opened doors for countless women in college sports.
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On Tuesday, Reed-Francois took part in an online panel hosted by the National Archives to discuss Title IX’s impact on college athletics. The panel included Ball State AD Beth Goetz, a former women’s soccer coach and assistant AD at UMSL.
The significance behind Thursday’s anniversary was not lost on Reed-Francois, 50, who was born a month before Title IX became law.
“I know I would not be here if it wasn’t for Title IX and what Title IX has done for us. It’s part of America’s story,” said Reed-Francois, who competed on the rowing team at UCLA. “And any civil rights law is about access and equity, but it’s also what I feel is about growth and opportunity. It’s just a privilege every day to be able to see our student-athletes and to be able to see the impact that Title IX has made on them and ... to stand on the shoulders of those that have come before us. It’s just truly an honor, and it’s something that I don’t take for granted.”
For all the progress women have made in college sports over the last half-century, it’s still an industry led primarily by the other gender. The NCAA released a study Thursday showing that white men make up 65% of college ADs at NCAA schools. The percentage of female Division I ADs has doubled in the past 24 years but as of 2020 was just 14.7%. The most opportunities for female ADs are available at the Division III level, per the study, at 33%.
Reed-Francois is one of just six women who serve as AD at the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences, along with Duke’s Nina King, Pittsburgh’s Heather Lyke, Virginia’s Carla Williams, Vanderbilt’s Candice Story Lee and Washington’s Jennifer Cohen. Nine of the 10 sitting FBS conference commissioners are men, with Judy MacLeod of Conference USA the only exception.
Reed-Francois once bristled when people asked her what it’s like to be a female AD, but her response has evolved since she came to Mizzou last summer.
“I used to answer it kind of flippantly and I would say, ‘Well, I don’t know how to be a man, so how about you just ask me what’s it like to be an athletic director? What’s it like to be a leader?’” she said “And then I got to the University of Missouri and I was meeting with my women’s soccer team and I saw that it mattered what our gender represented. I thought I needed to be much more thoughtful on this (topic). What I told them is, ‘I cannot wait for the day when you are a CEO or when you are five-star general and no one asks you what is it like to be a female five-star general or what’s it like to be a female head of your law firm?’ ... It (should be), ‘What’s it like to be a great leader?’ That’s why I’m really encouraged. And when I see our student-athletes today, it fills me with hope.”
Maybe Texas is cut out for SEC football after all. Five-star quarterback Arch Manning, the country’s top-rated recruit for 2023, announced his verbal commitment to the Longhorns on Thursday, choosing UT over Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Virginia and the alma maters of Uncle Peyton (Tennessee) and Grandpa Archie and Uncle Eli (Ole Miss).
The Manning pledge is nothing short of Steve Sarkisian’s biggest victory at Texas. The second-year Texas coach went just 5-7 in his debut season last fall with a dreadful loss to Kansas and surely gave pause to any notion the Horns can immediately compete in the SEC once they join in the coming years. But landing the sport’s top recruit with a last name that resonates across the Southeast gives Sarkisian considerable credibility on the recruiting trail. Should he stay true to his commitment, Manning will be the highest-rated QB to sign with Texas since Vince Young, also rated the nation’s No. 1 player (247Sports.com) in 2002. Over the prior 10 recruiting classes, nine different schools have signed the country’s top-ranked QB: Clemson (twice), Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Stanford, Ole Miss, UCLA, Texas A&M and USC.
Another big winner in the Manning commitment: Rising Longhorns quarterbacks coach A.J. Milwee, 36. The former walk-on QB at Alabama cut his teeth as coordinator at Akron, then spent two years with Sarkisian at Alabama as an analyst. As Manning’s primary recruiter, Milwee made himself known as a young coach to watch.
Thursday marked the fourth straight NBA draft that a Missouri player was not selected. It’s been a decade since the program produced a draft pick who began his college career at Mizzou and played more than one season in Columbia. Kim English and Marcus Denmon were the last two, both second-round picks as seniors in 2012. Since moving to the SEC for the 2012-13 season, Mizzou’s only draft picks have been Alex Oriakhi (2013), Jordan Clarkson (2014) and Michael Porter Jr. (2018).
Oddsmakers don’t think much of Mizzou this fall. Here are updated SEC football regular-season win totals by Draft Kings: Alabama (10.5), Georgia (10.5), Texas A&M (8.5), Arkansas (7.5), Kentucky (7.5), Ole Miss (7.5), Tennessee (7.5), Florida (7), LSU (7), Auburn (6.5), Mississippi State (6.5), South Carolina (6), Missouri (5.5) and Vanderbilt (2.5). Win totals for Mizzou’s three FBS nonconference foes: Kansas State (6.5), Louisiana Tech (4.5) and New Mexico State (3). Mizzou is an early 20-point favorite over Louisiana Tech for the Sept. 1 opener.