Before he actually began his tenure as Colorado athletic director in July 2013, Rick George knew that CU's female athletes needed more.

Many of the female athletes didn't have a locker room to call their own, and they were often leaving workouts to wash their faces in a bathroom sink and change clothes in a handicap stall just to freshen up for class.

"When we saw that, we made a change right away," George said. "They didn't have a place to shower, and neither did our male athletes other than football in Dal Ward at the time. That became a priority for us. We wanted to make sure all of our athletes had quality facilities that allowed them to be successful."

The football team will always have top of the line facilities — football is, after all, the main money-maker for the athletic department — but in the past few years, CU has put a top priority on gender equity and now features top-notch facilities for all of its athletes.

CU's recent facility upgrades, including the Champions Center and indoor football field, were completed with football at the forefront, but also with an emphasis on making sure all athletes, especially females, received equal treatment.

Gender equity has been a primary focus since George arrived nearly four years ago, and the Buffs have a five-year plan through 2021 to make even more strides in that area.


One of the few females in the athletic department when she got to CU, Ceal Barry, who coached women's basketball from 1983-2005 and is now a senior associate athletics director, has seen significant changes over the years, especially lately.

"Since Rick George has gotten here ... that's when we were able to really make headway in this particular area," she said. "How much better? Quite a bit better, because we've invested in the student-athlete experience here."

CU has a task force for gender equity that includes George, Barry and several other administrators, coaches and faculty members. That group has helped to create a friendlier environment for the female athletes in the past few years.

CU was lacking in enough areas to be non-compliant with Title IX before George arrived, but has made major strides in a number of areas to become compliant.

In addition to better facilities, CU has added lacrosse to its list of sports, moved volleyball from outdated Carlson Gym to the Coors Events Center, added several needed staffing positions to women's sports, provided more funds for recruiting and coaches salaries and made travel accommodations more equitable with men's sports.

Colorado senior associate athletics director Ceal Barry holds the gender equity plan during a regents meeting on Feb. 16.
Colorado senior associate athletics director Ceal Barry holds the gender equity plan during a regents meeting on Feb. 16. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

CU is also now providing laundry service for all athletes to get their practice clothes washed routinely. It might seem trivial to some, but when it's been routine for football and basketball for years, it's a big deal to make laundry service available to tennis and golf, etc.

"We have 11 head coaches, and we want to give all 11 head coaches world-class treatment," Barry said of all the changes in recent years. "They can tell their athletes ... 'You come to Colorado and we're going to give you a championship level opportunity.' That's what we're giving them."

The changes certainly have not gone unnoticed by the athletes, who are enjoying equal treatment — and a shower before going to class.

"They knew it was a struggle for us and that we didn't like it and were uncomfortable with it, and they changed it," said senior tennis player Nuria Ormeno Ruiz. "It's beautiful."

With the facility upgrade, CU turned the old home football locker room at Dal Ward into a top-notch locker room for the female athletes. The cross country/track, skiing, golf, tennis and soccer athletes now have their own locker rooms.

Built within that space is a community area, which Ruiz said has been an added bonus.

"It's a place where you can interact with more athletes," Ruiz said. "I think it creates community between female athletes, and it's nice to know that we're all together for the same thing here."

Ruiz, who has been at CU since the fall of 2013, said she's always felt fairly comfortable here, but the department's progress in gender equity has been clear.

"It's improved from the first year until now," she said. "It's nice to see that people care about us."

During the current school year, all of CU's women's team sports have been nationally ranked, the ski team finished second in the country, cross country was third and the track and field team is enjoying a great deal of success.

Barry believes CU's emphasis on providing more for the female athletes has helped to make them more competitive in their respect arenas.

"That's investment," Barry said.

The Buffs aren't done, however. The gender equity plan includes a long list of improvements to be made in the next several years.

"We still have some gaps," Barry said. "There's still more to do, but we're not as glaring in our weaknesses (compared to 2011)."

Some of the changes include capital investments that will take time — such as installing lights for soccer at Prentup Field and upgrading the locker rooms for volleyball. CU is also beginning a long-term plan to build a new lacrosse complex.

Other improvements to be made include an equal number of charter flights for men's and women's basketball, increasing marketing for sports such as lacrosse and tennis, and providing more in areas of travel, tutoring, recruiting, and more.

While plenty more work needs to be done, it brings a smile to Barry's face to see what has been done, not only since she arrived in 1983, but in recent years, as well.

"I'm pleased that we're making tangible increases and improvements," she said. "I'm also pleased that there's a culture shift in awareness on our obligation to do that. It doesn't feel painful to do it. There's a culture shift in our department that we should do it because we want to do it, and it's the right thing to do and it's the fair thing to do. And look at our results."

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.