Men’s College Basketball Coaches Say Women Will Soon Enter Their Field

Bernadette Mattox became the first woman assistant coach in men’s college basketball in 1990, before she left to coach Kentucky’s women’s team. CREDIT: AP
Bernadette Mattox became the first woman assistant coach in men’s college basketball in 1990, before she left to coach Kentucky’s women’s team. CREDIT: AP

After Tuesday’s news that the San Antonio Spurs had made long-time WNBA player Becky Hammon only the second woman assistant coach in NBA history, CBS Sports polled head coaches in men’s college basketball to get their thoughts on whether a woman would join their ranks in the next 25 years.

Their answer: 58 percent believed the game would get its first woman head coach in that time period.

The NBA has made major progress in recent years, but men’s college basketball beat the big league to the coaching punch in 1990 when then-Kentucky head man Rick Pitino made Bernadette Mattox the first woman to hold an assistant job in a men’s program. Mattox coached through the 1994 season before she took the job as the women’s coach at UK. Since then, few women have followed in her stead.

The poll is simply a quick snapshot that likely doesn’t say much: poll coaches when Mattox was hired, and I doubt many would have guessed that there would be as little progress as there has been for women in the men’s coaching ranks over the next 25 years. And while that lack of progress is certainly eye-catching and worth fixing, there is another problem facing women in the college ranks that is just as important but gets considerably less notice: they are getting fewer and fewer opportunities to coach in their own game too. And that stretches beyond basketball.

The number of women head coaches in Division I women’s basketball “decreased slightly from 62.3 percent in 2011–2012 to 60 percent in 2012–2013,” according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ report card for college athletics. TIDES doesn’t differentiate between sports for its assistant coaching numbers, but across all Division I women’s sports, the number of women holding assistant coaching jobs also declined from the year before, from 48.4 percent in 2011–2012 to 47.9 percent in 2012–2013.

Those declines aren’t huge, but they are a continuance of a larger trend that has occurred in women’s college sports over the last 40 years. When Title IX became law in 1972, women held 90 percent of head coaching jobs in women’s college sports programs, according to Dr. Judith M. Sweet, a former NCAA executive vice president and athletic director at the University of California, San Diego.. Today, that number has plummeted to just 43 percent across all sports. Yes, men now hold a majority of the coaching jobs even in women’s college sports (men hold exactly half of the 12 head coaching jobs in the WNBA).

What happened? The “dirty little secret” of Title IX is that it made women’s sports a more attractive workplace for male coaches, as Megan Greenwell detailed last year:

By legitimizing women’s sports, Title IX bestowed a new level of respect — and significantly higher salaries — on college coaching jobs, transforming them from passion projects for the most dedicated women’s sports advocates to serious career paths. When she began her career at the University of Tennessee in 1974, legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt earned $250 a month. Before retiring at the end of last season, she drew a salary of more than $2 million. […]

Assistant coaches of men’s teams saw a chance to be promoted faster by applying to head-coach jobs on the women’s side. Job opportunities doubled for graduating male athletes who weren’t going pro but wanted to stay in the game. Athletic directors, whose ranks have always been overwhelmingly male, increasingly hired other men for open positions.

While the number of women coaching women’s teams increased slightly last year (by 0.1 percent, according to TIDES), the overall trend remains the same: while women are getting more opportunities to play sports than ever before, they are getting fewer opportunities to coach them, even when the athletes themselves are women. That wouldn’t be such a big problem if women were getting more chances in men’s sports. But the number of women assistants has barely budged since Mattox sat on Kentucky’s bench 25 years ago, and according to the Department of Education’s numbers, women coach just 3.6 percent of men’s teams across all collegiate sports.

That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t pursue coaching gigs in men’s sports or that we shouldn’t celebrate the progress women are making in men’s sports, particularly in the NBA. But those opportunities almost certainly aren’t going to increase at a rate that allows them to compensate for the declining opportunities in women’s sports. We need to keep opening doors to women coaches, administrators, and executives in men’s sports. We need to make sure, though, that we don’t keep closing those doors in women’s sports while we do.