By Asher Price Austin American-Statesman
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In the 2014-2015 school year, zero women were head coaches of Division I men's basketball, soccer, ice hockey or tennis teams. The idea that a woman would helm a men's basketball or soccer team does not seem to occur to athletic federations or athletic directors -- even though in both those sports, as well as plenty of others, women have a long record of participation.
As the NBA season lurches to its finish in June, assume the usual round of firings of head coaches and general managers.
But don't expect any of their replacements to be women.
Even as developments in sports in this country have pushed forward the women's rights movement -- especially Title IX, the federal bar to sex discrimination in education -- the glass ceiling remains more thickly paned in athletics than in many corporate boardrooms.
Americans don't blink at the prospect of men coaching women's sports teams -- when the WNBA season began this month, seven of the 12 head coaches were men; men have coached the women's national soccer team; and a majority of women's teams at the recently concluded women's NCAA basketball tournament were coached by men, including all the teams in the women's Final Four -- but the prospect of women coaching men's teams is basically a non-starter.
Kim Mulkey, the head coach of Baylor's Lady Bears basketball team, and the first person to win an NCAA championship as a player, assistant coach and head coach -- in other words, as competitive and strategic-minded a person as you're likely to find -- says that she has never been approached about coaching a men's program.
In this, she's not unusual.
In the 2014-2015 school year, zero women were head coaches of Division I men's basketball, soccer, ice hockey or tennis teams.
The idea that a woman would helm a men's basketball or soccer team does not seem to occur to athletic federations or athletic directors -- even though in both those sports, as well as plenty of others, women have a long record of participation. (Not that it's clear why coaching should be blocked off to women in sports in which they have not competed as players: Why shouldn't a coach's daughter, who grew up on a steady diet of Xs and Os, be considered for the staff of the football team? )
The dusty arguments hurried out against promoting women to marquee coaching positions -- that they lack the requisite experience, or the bearing or psychology, or the backbone to handle a male environment -- amount to the same kind of hokum once used to keep women out of the boardroom.
And the suggestion that they simply have different bodies and can't relate to the athletes is similarly ridiculous. Have you seen how much LeBron James has in common with his head coaches? By this logic, we would balk at men's coaching women's sports.
And yet, according to the NCAA's race and gender demographics database, in the 2014-15 school year, men were head coaches of more than 40 percent of women's Division 1 basketball teams; nearly 75 percent of women's soccer teams and nearly 85 percent of women's ice hockey team; and more than 60 percent of women's tennis teams.
Many of these men have less playing experience than available women. Head coaches for the men's basketball programs at Indiana, Baylor, Cincinnati, and Gonzaga, all participants in the most recent NCAA men's tournament, never played past high school. Roy Williams, the coach of the storied University of North Carolina program, saw his playing days peter out in a college JV program.
Of course, those men worked their way up through the ranks, serving as interns and assistants before getting a crack at head coaching. In this way, too, women are slighted, as they're almost never hired for assistant jobs in men's athletic programs.
Part of the challenge is that women are skipped over for the front office, too: Across all of Division I sports during the 2014-2015 school year, just nine percent of athletic directors (i.e., the people who hire the coaches) were women. Women are similarly underrepresented as general managers in the pro ranks.
The problem carries special irony because the portion of men coaching college women's programs has risen over the last couple of decades, as pay in the women's game has increased as a consequence of Title IX; Pat Summitt was famously paid $250 a month when she began her coaching career at the University of Tennessee in 1974.
This isn't to complain about men coaching women but to observe that it's a two-way street, and women should be considered and hired for men's sports teams, too.
One solution: Men's sports adopt a version of the Rooney Rule; instituted by the NFL, the rule requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs. That solution isn't perfect -- the NFL remains skewed in its hiring practices -- but the NCAA and professional leagues should at least require all its members to interview at least one female candidate for a job, as well as candidates of color. (A shamefully low number of basketball coaches are African-American.)
The NBA's San Antonio Spurs took a step in the right direction, hiring Becky Hammon in 2014 as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports leagues.
Until hiring of women into assistantships becomes commonplace and men's teams promote women to head coaching jobs, the spirit of Title IX will go unfulfilled.
My colleague Kirk Bohls reported recently that the Spurs' general manager says Hammon has had head coaching offers from men's college programs.
That's excellent news: Hammon, Mulkey and members of their sorority may or may not want to coach the boys; but they ought at least to be given the chance. ------ Asher Price is a staff reporter at the American-Statesman and author of Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity.