Gender Equity is Knocking at Athletics’ Door, but No One is Home

The NCAA has had a problem with hiring women coaches since 1972, and Marist College isn’t immune.

In 1972—before the passage of Title IX—90-percent of women’s coaching jobs in the NCAA were held by women. Once Title IX improved the situation in college athletics for athletes, there was money in top-priority women’s sports like basketball. A lot of money. Those big-money jobs then gained interest from men, and men started getting hired for those jobs.

Dr. Robyn Rosen, a gender studies professor at Marist,  explained why these inequities happen in the first place. “In some ways, really what you just see is, I mean, plain old sexism,” she said,  describing the consistent culture of discrimination and “glass ceiling stuff” and how it appears all over the industry. “It’s not a conspiracy or anything, it’s just that men get hired more easily in things.”

Here are the numbers: 40.8-percent of coaching jobs in women’s collegiate athletics today are held by women. 8.6-percent of head coaching jobs in men’s collegiate athletics (Division 1) are held by women.

As for Marist? You’ll find it well below the national average of women in head coaching positions. Only 30-percent of women’s teams at Marist College have a woman at the helm. The 8.6-percent of women in head coaching positions for men’s teams? At Marist, that number is zero.

Why Marist is so far below the bar? Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray explained that when a position opens both he and Senior Women Administrator Elizabeth Donahue are actively involved in looking for the most qualified candidate, making sure that the candidates included women.

 “There are just far more males in the pool than there are females, regardless of how hard you [try] to develop your pool,” Murray said. “Why? Well, I think a lot of women choose to start families. A lot of women don’t choose to go into military or to trades, or to coaching.”

If teams are winning, does the gender of the coach matter? The best, most qualified candidate should be the one hired for the job, right? Marist’s women’s teams have a few good MAAC tournament runs every year and the rare NCAA Tournament appearance. Nine out of 13 teams had a record below .600 last season, with four of them falling below .500. Poughkeepsie isn’t exactly “Title Town.”

 It’s unlikely many athletes at Marist are going pro, making student-athletes very much students first, likely more than in most other Division-1 programs. If they’re students first, the goal is an education, on and off the court.

The Marist Athletic Department looks like they agree with that, based on its mission statement. It supports the ideals of Marist College in excellence in education, and pursuing “higher human values” through participation in athletics. It concludes that it is committed to offering “equitable opportunities to all students and staff.”

Can you really educate all of your student-athletes, pursue “higher human values,” and offer them all equitable opportunities if half of them don’t see themselves properly represented?

Murray doesn’t think female student athletes are at a disadvantage because they do not see themselves proportionately represented in head coaching positons. “No, not at all,” he countered. “I have overwhelming confidence in the people we put in positions of being a head coach.” He went on to explain that, at least on women’s teams, there is generally a woman as an assistant coach.

Here’s the thing about representation: it does matter and it is important.

Dr. Rosen  says research shows that academic performance of minorities improves when they seem themselves represented by their professors. They have higher graduation rates and success rates “I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be similar in terms of gender,” Rosen says. “If they don’t see coaching as a career option, then you’re closing out a whole set of opportunities for half of your athletes.”

Monmouth University Athletic Director Dr. Marilyn McNeil agrees. “We have to value the role modeling almost more than the skill set,” she says. “Because if we only value the skill set then most men are going to be more experienced. I think we really do have to look at that and say, ‘Okay, this might take a little more work for me to get this person up to speed,’ but the things that I don’t have to worry about, that I don’t have to get her up to speed on, are going to be really important to our female athletes.”

Joe Ausanio is nominally the head coach of the softball team, and has been fairly successful in that position. Yet Ausanio is a part-timer, while his female assistant works full-time. Still, the part-timer is in charge. And he gets the credit and glory for the wins his assistant has put more hours into.

Apparently nobody in the athletic department sees a problem with any of this.

Every school should be fighting to be the school with the most equality in head coach hiring. Yet far too many have settled for convenient solutions, or a few diversity workshops as a placeholder for a real effort to enact the purpose of Title IX.

Marist, however, has the program and school that could not just meet, but exceed the bar; a bar that is already only inches from the floor. They owe it to their students to try.

Marist prides itself on its vast, well-connected alumni network. Use that to your advantage. Talk to people. Reach out to former athletes, former sports communication students, current professors at other schools. Find female coaches. They’re out there. It’s a small world with a lot of talented Red Foxes. Use the people that care about this school to find out who is worth bringing in for an interview.

It starts with acknowledging the problem. “It’s harder work, but you can accomplish it if you just bear down and face it,” says Dr. McNeil. “It’s too important to minimize how much work [you’re] going to put into it.”

If athletics wants to support the pursuit of higher human values, and provide true equal opportunities to their students and staff, the opportunity is pounding on the door. It’s time to answer.

Edited by Dan Statile & Will Bjarnar

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