Shannon Miller coaching

New report reveals continued decline in women coaching women athletes

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

Earlier this month, the Tucker Center for Research released a report on the status of women in collegiate coaching, detailing the continuing decline of the percentage of women coaches employed to coach women athletes at 76 athletic programs.  The report card grades programs based on the percentage of women’s teams with head coaches who are women. Though the number of schools receiving an A (70%-100%) increased to two schools, with USF joining Cincinnati, the number of schools receiving an F (0%-24%) increased from 9 to 11, with Xavier being highlighted for their sorry achievement of zero percent. At Xavier, no athlete on a women’s team has a woman for a head coach.

The Tucker Center report demonstrates just one piece of the pattern that is the disruption and arguable deconstruction of women’s athletic culture in the United States. As women have made advances in the number of athletes physically in college, the percentage of coaches who are women has decreased from 90 percent in 1972 to less than 40 percent today. This would not be an issue if similar statistics showed that women coaches are taking over men’s athletics teams and entering into athletic leadership roles. That, however, does not appear to be the case. The decline of women coaches is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

Since Title IX passed in 1972, more women have had access to sports, but that has not translated to proportionate influence on sporting culture. Women are half of the population in the United States and play sports at every level, and yet none of the stories on the front page of yesterday mentioned a single woman in the headline. ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, has invested in women’s sports through their continuing sponsorship of the Women’s Basketball championship and television of women’s basketball games throughout the year. However, when UConn played South Carolina on Monday night, they played on ESPN 2, even though this match was one of the most anticipated ones of the year. The shortcomings do not only lie at the feet of ESPN. Unfortunately, the endorsement of women’s athletics by mainstream media comes in fleeting moments and does little to contribute to the sustainability of women’s athletic culture.

The influx of male coaches into women’s athletics further underscores the cultural vulnerability of women’s athletics, as it reinforces the notion that men can coach women simply because they are men, and that women cannot coach men, simply because they are women. There are exceptions to the rule (see Becky Hammon), but in general, these assumptions are reinforced consistently. Women are being forcibly removed as coaches — and not necessarily for well-documented reasons. Tracey Griesbaum, the former field hockey coach at the University of Iowa, was dismissed earlier this year, and now her former players are suing the institution for Title IX violations. More recently, Shannon Miller, the five-time national championship-winning hockey coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was informed that her contract would not be renewed for financial reasons. Later, the university admitted that the decision was influenced by more than finances.

Coaching is not a stable profession by any means, as any coach can be fired due to a lack of success at any point. A lack of success, however, was not the case for Griesbaum or Miller. Both coaches had excellent track records and brought positive attention to their respective institutions. The reality of women’s sports, however, is that they receive fewer resources, less attention than men’s basketball and football, and are often seen as inferior or boring. Many of the assumptions made about women’s sports are simply not fair, and are often rooted in sexism. In women’s basketball, many point to missed layups to illustrate the lackluster ability of female athletes, as if male athletes don’t miss bunny shots. Assumptions like these give credence to the justifications made by the media to keep women’s athletics on the fringes, except for specific moments.

These rare moments, however, are often very successful. When the winter Olympics roll around, it is women’s gymnastics and women’s soccer that dominate our airwaves. Imagine what sporting culture might look like if women received that level of sustained coverage across ll sports during all points of the year.

In order to right the ship for women coaches, we must continue to build athletic culture as communities of women, and also begin to hold the media and institutions accountable for the lack of attention paid to women’s athletics and continued dearth of resources and access afforded women athletes and coaches. To continue to remain quiet, and perhaps silent, will only lead to more roll backs on gains for women athletes and coaches. We cannot let that happen.

Header image credit: Star Tribune/Aaron Lavinsky



Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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