A fascinating new study has come out of University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport about the number of women who coach women’s sports.
In 1972, when Title IX was enacted, 90 percent of head coaches for women’s sports were women. Today that number is just 39.6 percent, down from 40.2 percent last year. The likely reason? Coaching gigs for women’s sports have become more lucrative and thus more attractive to male coaches.
The report went further and looked at what happens when there’s a coaching vacancy. A female is only hired to fill a vacancy 25.8 percent of the time. Meanwhile, a male takes a position vacated by a female 22.7 percent of the time, and 51.5 percent of the time a male head coach is replacing a former male head coach.
Some sports were found to be more likely to have female head coaches than others. Field hockey (100%), lacrosse (92.6%) and golf (78.8%), along with emerging sports synchronized swimming (100%) and equestrian (75%), were most often led be female coaches. However, there are five NCAA sports played by women with zero female head coaches: water polo, bowling, skiing, sailing and squash. Other low numbers were found in cross country (16.7%), ice hockey (12.5%), swimming (12.1%), track and field (7.8%) and diving (7.3%).
Cincinnati (80%) was the only school in the study (which comprised ACC, Big XII, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC for the 2012-2013 school year) who had over 70% female head coaches for its women’s sports. Eight schools came in at 55% or over: Texas (63.6%), Miami (60%), Penn State (60%), UCLA (57.1%), Washington State (55.6%), Florida State (55%), Illinois (55%) and LSU (55%).
The worst percentages, at 24% or under, were Alabama (23.1%), Vanderbilt (22.2%), Virginia Tech (20%), Syracuse (18.2%), West Virginia (18.2%), Arkansas (16.7%), Kentucky (16.7%), NC State (16.7%) and Oklahoma State (12.5%).
I spoke with a few athletic directors I know and asked if there are more men applying for these positions than women, because I thought perhaps that was the issue. However, the three I asked all thought the applications come in fairly 50/50.
If you’re interested in more results, there’s a great infographic here.
As a female who has played sports since I was 4-years-old, I have conflicted feelings about this study. On the one hand, I’m worried that talented women aren’t being considered for these positions. I can remember playing and coaching high school softball and being frustrated when male coaches who knew nothing about how to pitch fastpitch softball tried to teach young women how to pitch. Very few men have ever pitched fastpitch softball, period. It’s part of the reason I’ve always given time to coaching since I stopped playing fastpitch softball, because I know there aren’t many female pitching coaches out there.
That being said, I had some fabulous male coaches over the years…and some terrible female coaches. Of course, I also experienced the opposite – terrible male coaches and great female coaches. At the end of the day, I believe you should always hire the best person for the job, without regard to their gender or their ethnicity. If a male coach is truly better suited to coach the sport, then he should get the job and vice versa.
That’s the problem with a study like this: it only takes gender into account and not years of experience or accomplishments. So, while interesting and thought-provoking, I don’t think I’m ready to condemn schools who are hiring male head coaches for women’s sports based on this alone.