Balancing the score: Athletics looks to eliminate inequality

The Hollie L. Lepley Hall of Honor.

As former OU basketball player Travis Bader’s banner began to rise in the O’rena on Jan. 15, so did the question – where are all the women’s banners?

A banner in Oakland University athletics represents public recognition for an individual player’s achievements and is hung above the basketball court, complete with a ceremony. Currently, a walk into the O’Rena shows individual banners only for players from the men’s basketball team. 

While in recent years, Oakland University’s women’s basketball team has seen players with stats comparable to those recognized players at Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University and its Horizon League rival, University of Detroit Mercy, OU has yet to be represented by a female Golden Grizzly banner.

“We as a staff are trying to get our arms around what has been done in the past and what our different perceptions are for the future,” Director of Athletics Jeff Konya said during an interview on Thursday, Jan. 29. 

Under Oakland’s past system, program directors selected students whom they felt deserved athletic recognition, whether it be with an induction to the hall of honor or an individual banner over the courts. 

“Each coach looked at how it is they want to honor some of the people within their programs,” Holly Kerstner, associate athletic director for student-athlete services, said. 

“In the past [recognition] has been done more so on a programmatic basis rather than a departmental basis.” In other words, this means that there is not currently a universal standard between sports in OU athletics for athlete banner recognition. 

Though both men and women in each sport are represented across the hall of fame in Oakland’s Athletic Center, the gender imbalance in banner recognition is apparent.

Padraic McMeel, senior associate athletic director for external affairs, also explained that it is the nature of the difference in men’s and women’s records, such as men’s basketball being around longer than women’s, that contributes to the difficulty in equal banner representation of the athletes.

When it comes to jersey numbers, the swim and dive team – home to some of OU’s standout male and female athletes over the years – does not have numbers to be recognized by on a banner. Women’s records cannot be compared to men’s, since they are reached at different times and under different circumstances, according to McMeel.

Konya said that the athletic department has yet to recognize the accomplishments of the women of the volleyball team, who clinched first place in the Horizon League this season, moving on to the first round of NCAA final play.

Addressing the imbalance in athletic recognition, the department is forming a committee to set universal guidelines and goals for each sport. Under the previous leadership of former Athletic Director Tracy Huth, each team’s coach was responsible for recognizing noting accomplishments and honors. 

With this new committee and new athletic director, the department is looking to shift the responsibility. More versatile guidelines should be seen in the near future. 

“We’re trying to assess where we’ve been and what we need to do,” Konya said. “We have great stories: male female, and all of our sports.”

Under the leadership of McMeel, the committee hopes to eliminate any inequality within these guidelines. 

“We just need to really start talking through what do we want as our institution,” McMeel said. “We’ll have a very systematic way to recognize anybody above the hall of honor in a different way.”

Along with new individual recognition plans, the informal committee will set new parameters to decide what constitutes as honorable for the hall of fame, and what is considered a higher honor, according to Konya.

As the athletic department looks to put in an end to the athletic inequality, student athletes can expect to see drastic changes to the out-of-date, discriminatory guidelines, which currently leave program directors in charge of public recognition nominees and unfair, universal record-setting banner requirements.

“As we move towards having our department more integrated in this process, I think we’re going to have many more discussions of what makes sense and what is going to be worthy of such consideration, whether you’re a male or female or whatever sport you play,” Konya said.