Release courtesy of Calvin Larson, Sports Information Manager, Northern Michigan University
MARQUETTE, Mich. – When thinking of the effects of Title IX on the landscape of athletics at Northern Michigan University, the dominance of the volleyball teams in the 1990s and their lasting effects can never be forgotten. Looking at the banners hanging in Vandament Arena, one of only three arenas in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference solely dedicated to volleyball, one remembers how the foundation has been laid.
In the 40th year of Title IX, the GLIAC is taking time to look back on its importance on the conference and its member institutions. The NMU volleyball team was the first GLIAC team to win an NCAA Division II National Championship. The Wildcats won the national title in both 1993 and 1994, and was the runner up in 1992 and 1995. NMU has made 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Former NMU coaches Jim Moore and Mark Rosen are two very important figures in the history of Wildcat volleyball. The two recently took time to talk about their time in Marquette and their thoughts on Title IX. Moore currently coaches at the University of Oregon while Rosen is at the University of Michigan.
NMU played its first season of volleyball in 1974 and was a member of the GLIAC from 1975-77. The team was independent for nine seasons, rejoining the conference in 1987.
Moore took over the program in 1989. After three sub .500 seasons, Moore guided the 1991 ‘Cats to a 27-9 overall record, a 15-1 mark in the GLIAC and the program’s first NCAA appearance. NMU went all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals before losing to Portland State. In 1992, the ‘Cats were again bounced out of the NCAA Tournament by Portland State with a five-set loss in the Elite Eight. NMU finished 34-4 overall and 16-0 in the GLIAC that year.
An expectation for national prominence had been set and the Wildcats wouldn’t be denied in 1993. Northern opened the season with 28 straight victories before its only setback of the year, a five-set loss to California State Bakersfield at the Portland State TCI Cable Showcase on Oct. 20. NMU would get its revenge against CSU-Bakersfield with a 3-1 win in the national championship game on Dec. 6. During the magical 1993 season, NMU lost only nine sets while winning 102 and finishing 38-1 and with a perfect record (18-0) in the GLIAC for the second year in a row.
“Our key to success was having really good players,” Moore said. “Some of the players we had back then could legitimately start on any team that I’ve coached.
“Another major key for our success was Rick Comley. It was unbelievable leadership from him as the athletic director. Hockey had just won the 1991 National Championship and at the same time, the Office of Civil Rights came and did a random selection of schools to do a complete Title IX review and we were somehow selected.
“Rick embraced the review and Title IX. It would have been difficult as the coach of a prominent sport like hockey, but he knew how important it was. He took money from the hockey program and gave it to my program and to other women’s programs, and that is something that wasn’t happening from very many athletic directors.”
After five seasons in Marquette, Moore left for Division I and Big 12 Kansas State University. CSU-Bakersfield coach Mark Rosen took over the reigns for the Wildcats after being defeated by the Green and Gold in the title match the year before
Northern didn’t skip a beat, ending the 1994 season with 16 straight wins and as back-to-back National Champions. Rosen was defeated by his former team in straight sets on Sept. 17 but got revenge in the championship match like the ‘Cats did the season before.
“Winning the national championship was amazing, and doing it against my former team in the gym I came from was just surreal,” Rosen said. “It was hard because I cared about both teams, but it was a great memory.”
Rosen continued with the ‘Cats for three more seasons. He led NMU to another National Championship appearance in 1995 with a 34-3 record and its third perfect GLIAC season in four years. The ‘Cats finished third in the nation in 1996 and fourth in 1997 before Rosen moved onto Division I Boise State University.
Vandament Arena, the current home of the NMU Wildcats, opened its doors in 1995. In prior seasons, the volleyball team shared Hedgcock Fieldhouse with the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“When I was hired I coached the year before at Hedgcock in the national championship game at Bakersfield and the place was packed,” Rosen added. “Nobody knew anything about volleyball. but they were there to cheer for their team. When I got offered the NMU job, I remembered the crowd and knew they were building a new arena. When I got to NMU, the arena wasn’t even close to being done. Our offices were in the PEIF so I would go watch them build it everyday and bring coffee for the workers and tell them to hurry it up. It was a good experience playing in Hedgcock for the final time during my first season.
“Moving into Vandament was really cool because it was a great arena that was volleyball specific with a great locker room. The year after winning the national championship and seeing the huge crowd at Hedgcock I was surprised to not see them back the next year. The first year at Vandament we just didn’t have very good crowds but it didn’t take long for them to start coming and it was such a great atmosphere. It was something new and everyone was proud of our facility.”
Vandament Arena was officially dedicated on Nov. 9, 1997, and is named after Dr. William E. Vandament, who served as NMU president from 1991-97. Vandament, an avid supporter of the Wildcat volleyball team, was in the stands when the Wildcats won their national championships in 1993 and 1994. He retired in the summer of 1997.
“I proposed the idea of trying to name the new arena after Dr. Vandament,” Rosen said. “He was from Long Beach and loved volleyball. The first time I met him was in the dining hall during our preseason. He walked up and said ‘Hey coach, how are you doing? I’m glad you’re here and hope you’re enjoying it.’ I didn’t know who he was and when he walked away I had to ask my wife. He used to come to the games and play trumpet with the pep band. I thought that was real cool.”
Moore who actually designed the new arena before his departure in 1994 didn’t ever see the finished product until he returned for a second coaching stint with the NMU program in 2003.
“Having that arena for volleyball at Northern has allowed the program to stay at such a high level,” said Moore. “In my opinion, it’s the best Division II volleyball facility in the country.”
The Wildcats have continued their dominance over opponents at Vandament Arena. Entering the 2012 season, NMU was 172-24 all-time while playing on its home court and 12-1 in postseason matches.
The success Northern’s volleyball program has enjoyed since the 1990s most likely would not have happened without the passage of the federal law know as Title IX. Title IX ensures that all educational institutions that receive any type of federal funding must offer equal opportunity to their students regardless of gender. While it applies to all types of programs supported at educational institutions, its passage had the most significant change in school athletic programs since most schools did not have official programs for the female students prior to Title IX.
“Title IX has changed society forever,” Moore added. “Female participation has increased 3,000 percent and we don’t look at females the same way. It’s the reason we are where we are in terms of women’s participation.
“I currently have an All-American on my team who is also Miss Oregon and was in the Miss USA pageant. It’s allowed little girls to dream to be all of those things.”
“We, as student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans, can’t even image how much of an impact Title IX has made and continues to make even after people think it’s no longer necessary,” said Rosen. “Women’s athletics has taken huge strides in the last 25 years. It’s great because now you start seeing people coming to women’s events, whether it’s volleyball, soccer or basketball or other sports, because they really like it and they’re great sports. Had it not been enforced, that may have not necessarily happened.
“It will be interesting to see in the upcoming years because a lot of the current college athletics fan base is still an older generation and they don’t quite see women as athletes. The next generation will see that very differently. I think we’re still in this huge progression that will be really cool to see. Maybe the women’s sports will turn into revenue sports on TV and at the ticket gates because they’re great sports.”
NMU’s current coach Dominic Yoder, who has led the ‘Cats to three of their 16 NCAA appearances (2008, 2009, 2010), is grateful to Moore, Rosen and Comley and the NMU administrators throughout the years.
“The foundation that coach Moore and coach Rosen started in the 1990s gave us the facilities, the expectation and the following that we have today, and the inspiration for me to take a job here in 2007,” Yoder said. “Having our own facility helps us in recruiting because it puts us at the same level as the mid-major Division I teams. We can say that we have a Top 20 facility and a supportive administration that will help us be successful.
“Title IX is a positive thing in society because it put emphasis on dividing resources so there is equality for both genders,” Yoder added. “I think it’s something that has allowed women’s sports to grow into national prominence and recognition.”