A senior athletic administrator at TCU once referred to the women’s sports teams in the department as a “hemorrhoid,” and not in a flattering way.
That comment came in the mid-1990s, when the person, who was well over 60, dropped that description among male counterparts. Some laughs ensued.
At the time, I was a lowly graduate assistant in the athletic media relations office for a department that was demoralized from its exclusion from the creation of the Big 12 Conference. It was also consistently among the worst in meeting Title IX requirements in NCAA Division I.
Among the many transformations and improvements TCU has enjoyed since then, its modernization, prioritizing and success of its women’s athletics teams is almost as stunning as the evolution of its football program.
Consider TCU women’s soccer. The program existed since 1986, was not a member of a conference until 1995, didn’t offer a scholarship for more than a decade, and its head coach was in charge of both the men’s and women’s teams.
On Sunday, TCU will play Virginia in the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament in North Carolina.
For the coach and players who were a part of this program from its inception and lived through the indifference and growing pains, TCU having a chance to advance to a Final Four in women’s soccer is akin to Baylor doing the same in men’s basketball.
Maybe not quite to the Baylor basketball level, but in the same stratosphere.
The difference is Baylor wanted to win in men’s basketball whereas for a long time TCU was perfectly OK with losing seasons from its women’s soccer program, and every other women’s team, too.
“I just don’t think (women’s sports) was a priority; it was a necessary evil and I was on the edge of that time,” said former TCU soccer coach Dave Rubinson, who coached the team from 1986 to 2004. “For a long time it was something they just had to do, and a lot of that was Title IX stuff.”
For the coach who started the TCU women’s soccer program — and for decades a staple of the North Texas soccer community — Rubinson and all of the players should share in the accomplishment that is an Elite Eight appearance.
“I’m not sure that I do and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all,” Rubinson said in a phone interview this week.
Every program starts with no players and an empty office, and is understaffed, underfunded and loses a lot. Someone has to deal with that.
For more than 20 years Rubinson coached both the men’s and women’s soccer teams at TCU, until he was shoved out after the 2004 season as part of a house cleaning by the new TCU administration.
“I think I was one of the first scholarship players there,” said former TCU women’s soccer player Terra Mayfield Dickerson in a phone interview.
Her career at TCU began in 1997. She now lives in her native Austin with her husband and their two sons.
“I talk to my teammates all the time, and I absolutely loved my time there,” she said. “To see what that program has become, that they are having all this success, I love it. We all do. To see that new stadium that they have, and the crowds that they get, is great.
“We all feel like we were a part of building something. That’s the special part of this.”
The timing of her arrival coincided with the slow turn the university made toward athletics, women’s sports included.
Rubinson had six winning records in his 19 seasons at TCU. The women’s soccer team did not offer scholarships until after its 10th year. It slowly added scholarships over the years, which is a good way to recruit players, and a great way to alienate teammates.
If a program only offers some scholarship money, it means some teammates are receiving more than others.
The men’s team offered scholarships for a few years, about 2.5 total per season, before the program was scrapped in 2002.
“I’ve moved on and I do want them to do well. Let’s be fair, until about 1996 women’s sports were in the infancy stage. Very few places spent money,” Rubinson said. “TCU has become what I thought it could be, and these guys have been able to sell it as such.”
Rubinson, 69, is now the head coach at Arlington Heights and still active in the equestrian community.
He sees what the soccer program has become under coach Eric Bell, and while Rubinson may not feel a part of it, both he and all of the players who came before this current group should be proud in building something that started as a “hemorrhoid.”