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College athletics provide a visible presence for many universities. Winning teams, dynamic coaches, and tradition can produce positive publicity for schools; conversely, scandal and corruption may bring unwelcome notoriety not only to the athletic department, but to the entire university. Trends in the college athletic industry are easily identifiable because of extensive media coverage. The trends identified through this research include the economics involved in college athletics, including rising budgets, revenue, and coach’s salaries; corruption in college sports programs; and the decline in the number of female coaches in NCAA-Division I college athletics.
Continued research will examine some of the factors involved with the overall decline of head coaches and determine if there is one major component driving this downturn of women leaders.
A preliminary Google search to reveal current trends in college athletics generated a generous amount of information. Three subjects dominated the early searches. Each of the identified trends was complex, but also unique in that one was broad-based; the second encompassed a variety of issues within the trend, one of which is currently topical; and the third was very specific in nature.
Money is intriguing. The level of interest seems to have a direct correlation to the amounts of money generated, spent, or earned. For this reason, the business segment of the college sports industry, and the dollar amounts associated with revenues, budgets, and salaries, was identified as a current trend. USA Today reports yearly on both the revenue generated by individual universities sports programs, annual budgets, and on coach’s salaries.
Each measures in the millions. The highest collegiate coach’s salary reported in 2018, was earned by Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama. He topped the salary charts at $8,307,000 with the added potential to earn another $1,100,000 in bonuses (“NCAA Salaries,” 2018). With regard to revenues generated in collegiate athletics, the unit of measurement grows to the hundreds of millions with The University of Texas leading the way at $214,830,647 in generated funds. The operating budget at that same school was reported at $207,020,332. That number represented the largest budget in the NCAA-Division I. (“NCAA Finances,” 2017).
With the allure of big money, comes the increased opportunity for corruption, the second trend identified in the college sports industry. The most prominent, but not the only current incident of corruption involves an ongoing FBI investigation that is examining illegal payments made to top high school recruits. In exchange for money, the targeted recruits committed to attending a specific university for their collegiate career. After turning pro, the commitment would continue and require them to sign endorsement deals with a specific shoe companies, and utilize specific sports management groups and financial agencies. The federal government became aware of the complicated scheme through a cooperating witness who provided credible information about the ongoing fraud and bribery related to college athletic recruiting. The two-year FBI investigation that resulted, has ensnared shoe company executives, college coaches, investment professionals, as well as athlete’s and their families. Ten individuals were indicted in this continuing investigation (Gregory, 2017).
The third trend identified, was the overall decline of female coaches within collegiate athletics. Research indicates that fewer than 23% percent of all coaching positions, across all NCAA sports, are held by females. There is no other employment sector in which the percentages are so low for women. (Sabo, Veliz, & Staurowsky, 2016). Further investigation reveals that only 42% of all NCAA-Division I sports programs offered for females, are led by women head coaches (Stark, 2017). This statistic defines the scope of the research.
In September of 2018, the athletic administration at Syracuse University did something that it had not done for over ten years- they hired a female head coach. The previous twelve head coaches hired at the school were all men, eight of which were hired to lead women’s sports programs. (Carlson, 2018). With the addition of the newly hired coach, the number of female head coaches employed at Syracuse doubled. There are eleven women’s and seven men’s intercollegiate teams at Syracuse University. They currently have two female head coaches. Syracuse competes in the NCAA’s Division I level (Syracuse University).
The Tucker Center for Research in Girls & Women in Sport issues a yearly report card to grade universities on their efforts to hire female coaches. In 2017-2018, the year that Syracuse University reported only one female coach, there were 347 schools that made up the NCAA- Division I. Of those schools, only two received a lower grade than Syracuse University. Those two schools, Virginia Military Institute and University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, had zero female head coaches (Lavoi & Wasend, 2018).
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act was enacted by the federal government in 1972. The passage of the legislation intended to eliminate sex discrimination in higher educational institutions by requiring equal opportunity for women in educational institutions that received federal financial assistance. This legislation had a major impact within college athletics, compelling colleges to provide female athletes equal access for competition. In the forty-six years since the passage of Title IX, the participation of girls and women in sport is at an all- time high. However, the percentage of women employed as head coaches at the NCAA-Division I level has plunged to 41.7% down from 90% in 1972, when the legislation was enacted,
Good coaches can play a pivotal role in the overall development of a student-athlete, not only in athletic skills, but the overall educational experience. There is a critical need for young women to see and be impacted by successful women in leadership roles in all industries, including as head coaches of the sports teams that they participate in. Student-athletes that participate in the NCAA-Division I level are often competing at or close to the elite level. It is the highest level of competition available in collegiate athletics and the level in which many young athletes set their goals. The opportunity to have female student-athletes coached, taught, led, and educated by a successful woman has the potential for long lasting and impactful effects.
Research reveals that there are many complex factors that have contributed to the historic decline in the number of women that are employed as head coaches at the Division I level. Most significantly, is the one that has been created as an unintended result of the legislation that was written and enacted to prohibit discrimination- Title IX.
Opportunities for female student-athletes grew significantly after Title IX was enacted. As record numbers of female athletes were able to continue their athletic careers in college, coaching positions became more abundant and lucrative to anyone that was interested in the career, including men. This provided men with a dual pathway to a career in coaching and increased the competition for women job seekers. As men began to pursue and attain these jobs, women did not experience the same cross gender opportunities. Currently, only about 3% of the head coaches of men’s teams are held by women (Stark, 2017).
Hiring the best person for any job is paramount, however our culture and gender-based stereotyping, particularly with regard to leadership skills, can lead to many women not being identified as the most qualified job candidate. Many of the requisite leadership skills including vocal leadership and decision-making abilities are perceived as masculine traits. When a male displays these type behaviors and skills, it is an attribute; conversely, when women display these same qualities, the perception is often a negative one. This gender-bias has far-reaching implications when combined with a search committees charge to find the best person for the job. Any qualified woman competing against an equally qualified man would be at a distinct disadvantage.
Conversations with coaches nationwide as well as female leaders in the sports industry, have identified twenty-eight factors that have contributed to the coaching decline, in addition to the two already identified. Some of these factors include an increase in the job demands, the strain on working mothers, discrimination and fear among lesbian coaches, gender bias in career advancement, lack of mentors, and lack of networking opportunities (Stark, 2017).
A major factor cited by many current head coaches, was the overwhelming challenge of attaining a work-life balance in a position that requires extensive travel, is under public scrutiny, and is not defined by traditional workdays and hours (Stark, 2017). In recent years, two head coaches of NCAA-Division I women’s basketball programs made critical personal decisions that had huge implications in their professional lives. These decisions were precipitated by exceptional challenges with work-life balance and provide illustrative examples of the drastic steps that the challenges necessitated. Both women chose to leave their positions, one temporarily and one permanently to address pressing work-life issues.
Charli Turner-Thorne has been the head coach of the Arizona State women’s basketball team for twenty-one seasons. During the spring of 2011, she crafted a plan to step away from coaching to focus on personal and professional growth, during a year-long sabbatical. Together with an athletic director that allowed for the progressive move, the year away allowed a refreshed Turner-Thorne to return and lead the program as a better coach (Stark, 2017). Head Coach Turner-Thorne, the married mother of three children, is currently the winningest women’s basketball coach in the history of Arizona State. (Arizona athletic site)
The former head coach of Virginia women’s basketball program, Joanne Boyle stepped away from a $700,000 per year position and shifted her focus to finalizing the complex overseas adoption of her daughter, originally from Senegal. She announced her decision in March of 2018, shortly after completing her seventh season at Virginia and her sixteenth season as a head coach of an NCAA-Division I program. The bureaucracy associated with the international adoption process and required travel, combined with the work-life demands of this single mother, devolved into a situation in which stepping down seemed to be the only option for Boyle (Friedman, 2018).
Life-work balance challenges are not unique to professional women, but the feelings of exhaustion, stress and often times of guilt tied to the job, can intensify for mothers who coach. Women who are considering entering the coaching profession, may opt out, realizing the round the clock nature that the job sometimes requires, may not be compatible with family responsibilities (Stark, 2017).
It is evident that there is not just one factor that can be solely attributed to the decline of the number of female head coaches in the NCAA-Division I ranks. Many components combine to feed into the disturbing downward trend. Many of the factors identified are not gender specific, but are compounded for women in the coaching profession, particularly head coaches. Continued research will bring an increased awareness to this issue, which in turn has the potential to lead to dialog, then action, and finally changes within athletic departments. Placing a priority on the active recruitment of qualified female coaches, providing mentorship programs to develop future leaders, and instituting programs to provide the necessary support for all coaches within the department to be successful, would positively impact coaches and student-athletes. On a larger scale, cultural shifts and progressive attitudes towards current women leaders and future leaders, could yield a significant impact, with the potential to reverse this trend in coaching. With awareness, changes, and shifts, it just may be possible to consistently recruit, hire, and retain the best person for the job.
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