Christine Grant Fought for Equity for Female Athletes

She held the job until 2000, marshaling a dozen sports that won 27 Big Ten Conference championships, then taught courses until 2006. According to The Athletic, Grant grew the women’s sports budget from $3,000 to nearly $7 million. And in her unflagging pursuit of equality for women, she was not allergic to showmanship and mischief.

During the 1984-85 basketball season, Grant and university coaches and athletic officials decided to try to set the N.C.A.A. record for attendance at a women’s game. On Feb. 3, 1985, a Sunday afternoon, they succeeded when 22,157 spectators crammed into Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which was designed for a capacity of about 15,500.

As traffic backed up for several miles, Grant took to local radio asking that drivers turn around. After the 56-47 defeat to Ohio State, she received a letter of reprimand for violating the fire code. She framed the letter and hung it in her office, elated at the delicious irony that someone was finally complaining about too many fans attending a women’s basketball game.

C. Vivian Stringer, Iowa’s coach at the time, has said that tears rolled down her cheeks when she saw the size of the crowd. On Tuesday, Stringer wrote in a eulogy of Grant’s devotion to gender and racial equity, including paying Stringer a salary equal to the Iowa men’s coach. “If there was a Mount Rushmore of impactful female pioneers in sports, Christine would be on it,” wrote Stringer, now the longtime coach at Rutgers.

Yet there have been many roadblocks to equality, some petty, others grievous.

Grant told of how, upon being named the women’s athletic director at Iowa, she was asked to step out of the group photo of her male counterparts at Big Ten meetings. And how in 1981, when the once-dismissive N.C.A.A. voted at its convention to sponsor women’s championships, essentially killing the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, of which Grant had been president, her resistance was met with some boos and nasty caricatures drawn on pieces of paper.