Female Coaches Are On the Verge of Extinction in College Sports By Barry Burkett

Female Coaches Are On the Verge of Extinction in College Sports

By Barry Burkett

Over this past summer, our nation mourned the loss of the legendary women’s basketball coach and human being Pat Summit. Never settling for the status quo, she inspired young men and women to give the best of themselves in the classroom, their communities, and on the playing field.[1] Her intensity and competitiveness were unrivaled by any coach whether male or female, proven by her eight national championship victories at the University of Tennessee. [2]

We have seen the impact that women in head coaching positions have made in their respective sports and the NCAA in general. So, the big question to ask now is: Why do we not see more women coaching on the sidelines at the collegiate level? Unfortunately, some women who continue to ask this question and challenge the current structure of collegiate athletics are either labeled as feminists or ignored. Now, it is time for men as well to start challenging colleges and universities to stop brushing this question aside and address the inequities faced by women who seek jobs in coaching or those already situated in coaching positions.

It is unacceptable that this problem persists because Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is in place to prevent gender inequities that women face in educational institutions.[3] From a positive perspective, Title IX has been powerful for female student-athletes in their pursuit to make huge strides in collegiate athletics. As of 2015, around 209,472 female student-athletes are competing in collegiate athletics[4] compared to less than 30,000 in 1972[5] and this number will continue to climb. For female coaches, the inverse has actually happened. Since 1972, the number of women in head coaching positions has decreased from 90 percent to 40.2 percent, and only 43 percent of women’s teams are coached by women.[6] In fact, for all the college hoops fan who watched the 2016 NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament, you may have noticed that all of the teams that advanced to the final four were coached by men.[7] These are not the only top programs that have male coaches hoisting trophies for women’s teams, click here to see what some of the other top Division I athletic programs score in gender equity for coaching.[8]

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with male coaches aspiring to lead a team of young women. Nevertheless, there are inequities when our female coaches face strong barriers to entry if they want to coach for men’s teams and must clear huddles just to coach women’s teams.[9] It is true that a number of factors can be attributed to men making up the majority of the coaching positions for men’s and women’s teams than discrimination per se. Women’s sports have become more lucrative to men as schools create more employment opportunities and the earning potential continues to rise.[10] However, it would be naïve to deny that gender does not play a substantial factor in hiring decisions for athletic directors when only 20.3 percent of collegiate athletic directors are women.[11] Another justification for men dominating coaching positions that has been proposed for years is that women just do not have the same level of interest as men to coach.[12] This justification is definitely without merit given the growing participation rate for female student-athletes in collegiate athletics meaning female interest in coaching should be growing as well.

For the women already in head coaching positions, the current system is far from being a utopia. Over the last decade, several women have claimed that they were fired for speaking up about their athletic department’s discriminatory practices like unequal pay or coaching standards compared to their male counterparts.[13] A recent illustration is the former University of Iowa’s hockey coach Tracey Grisbaum who was fired for the alleged verbal abuse of two female student-athletes although there was “insufficient evidence to substantiate a violation of university policy”.[14]

Grisbaum has a pending lawsuit against the University of Iowa claiming gender discrimination, but the pending Title IX lawsuit filed by four of her former players against the university may prove more groundbreaking for collegiate athletics.[15] The players assert that firing a female coach for using the exact same coaching methods as a male coach compromises the right of female student-athletes to receive the same experience as male athletes due to their sex and/or their coach’s sex.[16] Not only are they brave, these young women are playing an instrumental role in the push for equality in collegiate athletics by raising awareness regarding the different standards set for female coaches to actually coach their players.[17]

Finally, some people may question why increasing the number of women in coaching positions matters. There are several reasons but I will only highlight one. Today, the same inequities that exists in athletics and coaching, like unequal pay and opportunities to lead, are true for women in other male-dominated industries as well where the status quo continues to be accepted. If our colleges and universities can come together and work toward shattering the status quo in collegiate athletics, which has historically been littered with gender stereotypes, there will be positive spillover effects for women in other professional industries.

As we watch our favorite college teams compete this year, we should support our female coaches just as we did the legendary Pat Summit and celebrate them for the competiveness that they contribute to collegiate athletics.


[1] Kate Fagan, Whether or Not You Played for Her, Pat Summit Inspired a Generation of Basketball Players, Espn: Espn W (June 28, 2016), http://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/16519567/pat-summitt-inspired-generation-basketball-players.


[2] Id.


[3] Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (1972) (“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”).


[4] Sports Sponsorship and Participation Research, Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/sports-sponsorship-and-participation-research (last visited Sept. 18, 2016).


[5] Title IX and Athletics Proven Benefits, Unfounded Objection, The Nat’l Coal. For Women And Girls In Educ. 2 (2012), http://www.ncwge.org/TitleIX40/Athletics.pdf.


[6] Mary Pilon, Less Than Half of Women’s College Sports Teams Are Coached by Women, Fortune (September 14, 2015), http://fortune.com/2015/09/14/womens-college-sports-coaches/.


[7] John Walters, You’ve Got Male: For the First Time, Only Men Are Coaching the Women’s Final Four Teams, Newsweek (March 30, 2016), http://www.newsweek.com/2016/04/15/youve-got-male-first-time-only-men-coaching-womens-final-four-teams-442213.html.


[8] Annie Brown, A Man’s Game: Inside the Inequality that Plagues Women’s College Sports, Reveal (May 5, 2016), https://www.revealnews.org/article/a-mans-game-inside-the-inequality-that-plagues-womens-college-sports/.


[9] Erin E. Buzuvis, Barriers to Leadership for Women in College Athletics, Introduction to Intercollegiate Athletics, at 275-76 (Eddie Comeaux, ed., 2015).


[10] Pilon, supra note 6.


[11] Alexandria Vollman, Female Athletic Directors: A Scarce but Positive Influence, Insight Into Diversity, http://www.insightintodiversity.com/female-athletic-directors-a-scarce-but-positive-influence/ (last visited Oct. 19, 2016).


[12] Buzuris, supra note 9, at 281.


[13] Brown, supra note 8.


[14] Brown, supra note 8.


[15] Kate Fagan, Why the Iowa Field Hockey Title IX Complaint Is a Huge Deal, Espn: Espn W (Feb. 5, 2015), http://www.espn.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/12283119/why-iowa-field-hockey-title-ix-complaint-huge-deal.


[16] Id.


[17] Id.



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