An even sadder NCAA story exists today than the recent news that university athletic departments are still playing games – “Gender Games” – with women’s athletics to circumvent Title IX.
The percentage of women coaching women’s teams has plummeted in the 40 years since the 1972 passage of the federal law that was supposed to result in all men and women being treated equal on college campuses.
Fact: Women coaches oversaw 90 percent of women’s college teams in 1972. Now that percentage stands at 42.6 percent.
Fact: Only 5.3 percent of all women’s head coaching positions are currently held byAfrican-Americans.
This comes during a period when women’s participation in college sports increased 500 percent, climbing from 30,000 a year in 1972 to 186,000 a year currently. Those numbers may be exaggerated according to a recent New York Times investigation that reveals deceptive practices used by university’s to comply with Title IX. The so-called gender games involve several tactics that result in over-reporting of women’s participation numbers. These include women athletes unwittingly being counted multiple times in sports they don’t even play. Male practice players are being recorded as women. Women’s teams are asked to pad their rosters with walk-ons, while universities trim the rosters of men’s teams.
It simply does not compute that during unprecedented growth in the number of women participating in college sports, opportunities for women to coach those female athletes, or for those athletes to move into the college coaching ranks, have seen a dramatic downturn.
That’s about to change. Dr. Judy Sweet, once the NCAA’s primary contact for Title IX and Gender Equity Initiatives, has begun working to reverse that ongoing downward spiral in women’s coaching. She and other women leaders formed the new Alliance of Women Coaches and Sweet currently serves as co-director.
The stated goal: Improve the landscape for women coaches in all sports at all levels.
Two main thrusts by the Alliance of Women Coaches designed to increase the diversity and numbers of women in the profession of coaching are ongoing professional development and networking designed to provide a support system for women coaches in various phases of their careers.
“We like to say that we offer women coaches everything from A to Z, except X’s and O’s,” Sweet said.
One group the Alliance plans to collaborate with is the NCAA Women Coaches Academy (WCA), which began in 2003 to retain current women coaches and to train them to mentor up-and-comers. More than 700 women representing 17 different sports have gone through the WCA program and 90 percent have ended up furthering their careers.
WCA graduates have repeatedly expressed a desire to stay connected with other women coaches but they have lacked the forum to do so. A recent survey of 400 graduates showed that 98 percent had a “strong interest” in joining a group such as the Alliance for Women Coaches.
Brian McCormick, an author and an experienced basketball coach who blogs various issues relating to coaching argues that women coaches do need more mentoring and professional development before taking over sport programs.
Cori Close became the first woman hired to take over a Pacific 10 Conference women’s basketball program after the previous four Pac-10 openings went to men. UCLA recently hired Close, who was the Florida State University women’s basketball associate head coach for seven seasons.
“Rather than suggesting that there is a gender bias, the message is that a Pac-10 program is not the place to get your deliberate practice,” he said on the Swish Appeal blog “[Women coaches] should seek the deliberate practice on a smaller stage where they can learn from their mistakes beyond the glare that shines on the major programs and gain the experience to transition seamlessly to a bigger program and excel when given the opportunity.”
Sweet wishes the obstacles were that simple. Women coaches in all sports often are the only female coach at their college or part of a small group and feel isolated, subject to homophobia and negative recruiting, denied the resources to be competitive, paid less than their male counterparts, and subject to many other challenges.
The Alliance of Women Coaches will work to correct the inequities that obviously remain since the dawn of Title IX.
“We aim to be a strong advocate for equal opportunities for all women in athletics,” said Sweet, University of California San Diego athletic director for 24 years. “We want to enhance their advancement and to increase the number of women coaches in all sports, divisions and levels, including college, high school and club programs.”
Dr. Judith M. Sweet is a leader in women’s intercollegiate athletics. She most recently served (2006-2010) as NCAA Senior Vice President for Championships and Education Services. Prior to working with the NCAA Dr. Sweet spent 24 years at the University of California, San Diego, where she became one of the very first women in the nation selected to head a combined women’s and men’s intercollegiate athletic program. During her tenure UCSD won a total of 24 conference championships and in 1998 won the Director’s Cup (then sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics) in 1998. She served on numerous NCAA committees and in 1991 was elected to a 2-year term as Membership President of the NCAA. This came immediately after she served as secretary-treasurer for the NCAA from 1989-1991. She has won numerous awards throughout her career in sports.