Arkansas to merge men's, women's athletic programs

Updated: November 15, 2007, 9:00 PM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas will merge its men's and women's athletics programs beginning next year, joining nearly all Division I colleges across the nation, school officials announced Thursday.

The university kept the departments separate for 35 years, following the passage of Title IX in 1972. Chancellor John A. White said the move would strengthen the university's athletic department as a new director takes over.

Under the new system, incoming athletic director Jeff Long will report to White and serve as vice chancellor of intercollegiate athletics. Bev Lewis, director of the women's athletics department since 1989, will become an associate vice chancellor and will report to Long.

Long will replace Frank Broyles as athletic director on Jan. 1, the same day the merger will take effect. Broyles, 82, is retiring after 50 years with the school, first as head football coach and later as athletic director.

White said he began exploring the idea of merging in the summer. Broyles announced his resignation plans in February.

"I frankly realized that I had become a victim of one of the things that I in my professional practice had chided my clients not to do -- I told them that you should not follow the adage 'if it's not broken, don't fix it,'" White told reporters Thursday morning. "That means that you're satisfied with good as opposed to pursuing greatness."

White said no layoffs were immediately planned. Currently, the women's athletic department alone has about 60 full-time employees.

"Our overarching reason to do this is not about cost reduction or anything else," White said. "We're not going into this with the idea in mind of what can we eliminate but rather what we need to add."

Broyles said he supports the move, although he indicated that cost-cutting could very well have been a motive.

"It's the best thing in the world for us," Broyles said. "It will eliminate duplication and cost. They didn't say that, but that's what it'll do."

Arkansas has eight men's and 11 women's varsity teams in Division I. The school competes in the Southeastern Conference.

Among the 329 Division I schools, only Texas and Tennessee maintain separate women's athletic departments. But before Title IX, nearly every school had separate athletic departments, said Jennifer Alley, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletic Administrators.

To comply with the federal law, a school can show proportionality of female athletes to female students on campus; or a history of increasing sports for women; or prove it has met the interest and ability of the underrepresented group. After nearly a decade, the NCAA moved toward incorporating women's sports under its supervision, Alley said.

Many schools responded by joining their then-separate departments. However, schools like Arkansas held back, sometimes because the women's program had its own strength, Alley said.

"They had huge booster programs and had very, very strong commitments in supporting for their women's program," Alley said. "It was just working for them in that capacity."

Lewis said she planned to stay on at the school through the changes. A hastily called news conference Thursday morning confirming the merger came because more people were learning about the idea and she planned to travel to Italy in the coming week, Lewis said.

Lewis said the merger would "benefit everybody." She pointed to the marketing possibilities, such as selling both men's and women's basketball radio broadcasts together.

"Throughout history, the men's program has been very strong. Having a separate women's program allowed the women's sports to grow to become their equal," she said. "It is now time to take the next step."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press