Athletics/Sports

Sports Researchers Detail Uneven Playing Field

Monday, September 3, 2012

Decades after the enactment of Title IX, two longtime gender-gap number crunchers can relax and celebrate the huge gain in women's sports participation. But as they think about winding down, there's still a big problem with coaching.




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Credit: ucentralarkansas on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)-- The strong showing by U.S. female athletes in the Olympics--who won nearly twice as many gold medals as male counterparts--is one sign of why Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter might think the big part of their job is over.

Every two years for decades, since 1977, the two Brooklyn College professors have been documenting the ongoing problem of a sports gender gap with their publication of "Women in Intercollegiate Sport."

Now Acosta and Carpenter say they don't know how much longer they will produce the study, on which they spend many months a year collecting data.

"Thirty-five years is an extremely long time in the life of a longitudinal study," Carpenter said. "The next time we would be gathering data would be a year from now and neither one of us is thinking of it at this point."

For 25 years the study was funded by Brooklyn College. Ten years ago the Project on Women and Social Change at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., took over the financing.

The study is available online at no cost and with the help of the Internet, it has provided a basic reference for congressional and federal hearings and has helped create curriculum for graduate programs, Carpenter said. The NCAA also consults it.

"The study has been a real joy to us," Carpenter said. "It's been used as a foundation so that people who are trying to find solutions don't have to look hard to see that there is a problem."

One Big Problem

The study's most recent numbers--published in January 2012--continue to provide signs of a big problem for women in one area of sports: coaching.

But those same numbers also show the impressive ground gained by female athletes since the 1972 enactment of Title IX, the federal legislation that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government aid.

"Participation is now amazing," Carpenter said, referring to the numbers and prowess of female athletics. "What that's done for young women in today's life is superb."

A year before the enactment of Title IX, a total of 16,000 female athletes played U.S. college sports. In 2012, a new high-water mark was reached: 200,000 female athletes played on 9,274 NCAA member college teams. That number of college teams represents a tripling from before Title IX.

Basketball and volleyball are the most popular sports, but women's soccer has been catching on. Women's soccer teams are now found in more than 90 percent of colleges, a huge jump from 2.8 percent of schools in 1977.

But as women's sports have gained, female coaches have been losing out. In 1972, 90 percent of women's athletics coaches were female, but today this number is less than 50 percent.

Wider employment opportunities for women since the 1970s may be part of the explanation, said Carpenter. "These other jobs offer more money with less haste and struggle."

But another part of the explanation is the rise in salaries for sports coaches.

"With Title IX, coaching positions began to get paid and paid better. That made them more attractive to men," Carpenter said. Very seldom were these positions paid before and even if they were, it was nowhere near the level of a men's team, she added.

Men make up most of the college sports administration, athletic trainers and particularly the sports information directors.

Lack of Recruiting

Nor are women being recruited for athletic positions at the same rate, Carpenter said.

"If an athletic director wants a new one for his team, he will look for the best," she said. "But he won't think to find out who the best female is."

The study indicates that women are also struggling when it comes to coaching a men's team, with only about 3 percent of females with such a position. And, these teams usually play lower-profile sports that can practice in a co-ed manner, such as tennis, swimming and track, Carpenter said.

"There's a social construct that says women don't do well coaching men, it's erroneous," Carpenter said.

These numbers trouble Elizabeth Naumovski, the women's basketball head coach at CUNY Queens College, a second division team.

"I'd like to think that in 2012 we would have made a lot more progress than we have," Naumovski said. "Females in athletics need to know that the fight isn't over and it's up to us to continue to hold that torch and move the profession of coaching forward in that realm."

Naumovski, who began playing basketball in grade school, also believes the setback is deep-rooted.

"The problem is not only in coaching alone, it's in the athletic programs as a whole," Naumovski said. "Until we have more female faces in athletics period, those number won't grow in coaching."

The genesis of "Women in Intercollegiate Sport" was a conference held by the now-dissolved Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in the mid-1970s, where Acosta became concerned by talk of male dominance in sports.

When she expressed her concern to Carpenter, also a professor at Brooklyn College, the sparks began to fly. In short order the two women set out to document these numbers in intercollegiate sports.

"One thing led to another and 35 years later here we are," Carpenter said.

Anna Halkidis is a freelance journalist from Queens, N.Y. She also runs a music blog, http://www.musicnlove.com/.

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