Ann Meyers - Broke Gender Barriers
Broke Gender Barriers
After touring the former Soviet Union with the national team, Meyers entered college at UCLA on an athletic scholarship the fall of 1974. In the context of the times the scholarship award by UCLA was unprecedented because Meyers received a full scholarship specifically to play women's basketball. Women's intercollegiate sports in the 1970s were administered by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), an organization that later went into competition with the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) for control of women's sports programs. It was not until the implementation of Title IX, a women's sports initiative, that colleges were compelled to fund sports programs for women on an equal basis with those for men. Formed in 1972, the AIAW was defunct by 1983, in part because Title IX forced a re-assessment of the profitability of women's sports. The year 1982 was the crossover year when the AIAW merged into the NCAA. The final AIAW tourney and the first NCAA women's tournament were held that year.
For Meyers, caught in the limbo of the AIAW just prior to the dawn of Title IX in 1979, the opportunity to play basketball on full scholarship for the UCLA Bruins stands as a significant commentary on her ability. She took up the challenge, achieving much more than anyone might have anticipated. With an average of 17.4 points per game, she led the school in scoring during her freshman season. She led also in field goal percentage, rebounding average, free throw percentage, assists, steals, and blocked shots, and was the first player—male or female—to be named a Kodak all-American for each of her four years of play. That honor was punctuated by a spot on the silver-medal U.S. Olympic team in 1976, which marked the inaugural appearance of women's Olympic basketball. A three-time All-American in college, from 1976-78, Meyers helped lead the Lady Bruins to the AIAW championship during her final season of competition in 1978. She graduated third in all-time scoring with 1,685 points, and led the school in career assists with 544 (5.6 average per game) and steals with 403 (4.2 average per game). Also among her 12 college records, she left UCLA as the only player to post a quadruple double, which she accomplished against Stephen F. Austin State University in 1978—with 20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steels.
With four seasons of college competition behind her, Meyers was the number one draft pick in the inaugural draft of the Women's Basketball League (WBL) in 1978. She refused an offer to play with the Houston Angels, however, in order to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980—In those days the Olympic regulations required athletes to maintain amateur status as a prerequisite for participation. While continuing with adult AAU competition, Meyers spent some time in 1979 completing the academic requirements for a bachelor's degree in sociology. She was named AAU All-American from 1977-79 and AAU MVP for the 1977-78 season.
1979 was a landmark year for women's amateur sports, with the passage of Title IX. Although Meyers was no longer a student athlete, the historic implications of the year were equally significant for her. Believing that she would not make the Olympic team, Meyers accepted an offer to sign as a free agent with the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Some observers criticized the move very harshly, and it was seen as a publicity stunt in conjunction with the implementation of Title IX. However controversial, Meyers's free agency with the NBA was a dramatic milestone toward the advancement of social equality for women.
Although she had proven her talent as a powerhouse on the college hoop circuit, the 5-foot-9-inch, 135-pound athlete failed to make the NBA cut. Pacers coach Bob Leonard suggested that she was at least 6 inches and 40 pounds shy of the physical frame necessary to compete in the men's game, indicating that a man of her stature was at an equally severe disadvantage in the competition. According to the terms of her contract, Meyers was guaranteed work with the Pacers at an annual salary of $50,000, for broadcasting and public relations services. She accepted the alternative conditions, however briefly, but still wanted to play professional ball. She turned instead to the WBL, which was entering its second season of play.