Where the Boys Are; How a Well-Intentioned Civil Rights Law and a Dose of Chauvinism Shoved Women Administrators out of College Sports

By Goodman, Matthew | The Washington Monthly, April 1989 | Go to article overview

Where the Boys Are; How a Well-Intentioned Civil Rights Law and a Dose of Chauvinism Shoved Women Administrators out of College Sports


Goodman, Matthew, The Washington Monthly


How a well-intentioned civil rights law and a dose of chauvinism shoved women administrators out of college sports

One day last February, George Bush took some time out to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, At the White House, the new president gave Olympic sprinter Evelyn Ashford an award and received a gold-plated horseshoe from jockey Julie Krone.

As such high-viz events suggest, this is a time of unprecedented growth and excitement within women's sports. But a closer look reveals that there's an unprecedented problem too: although female athletes have become increasingly visible, women coaches and administrators are increasingly scarce. It's just like black athletes: in general, they run plays, but not much else. After all, Big Sports is Big Business, where women are rarely in control.

A study done by two Brooklyn College professors reveals some interesting facts: in 1972 more than 90 percent of women's teams' coaches were female; by 1988 that number had dropped to only 48 percent. In 1972, more than 90 percent of women's athletic programs were headed by a female administrator; today it's only 16 percent. In fact, women hold only 29 percent of all administrative positions within women's athletic programs, and 32 percent of women's athletic programs have no women administrators at all. And the irony is that the overriding factor in creating this situation was the passage of the bill designed to outlaw gender discrimination on campus.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 barred sex bias "in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Its passage was hailed as a major victory for the women's movement, and one of Title IX's immediate consequences was that many colleges and universities merged their men's and women's athletic programs. The thinking was that sharing staffs and resources would be a significant step towards equality (not to mention saving on administrative costs).

However, at every school in the country where this kind of departmental merger occurred, the head of the men's athletic department became athletic director and the head of the women's athletic department became his assistant. Women who had once run their own departments, overseeing budgets, scheduling, and hiring, now saw those responsibilities pass solely to men. As Christine Grant, the director of women's athletics at the University of Iowa, puts it, "When the programs merged, the women were submerged."

Then and now, men have tended to offer three major reasons for dominating athletic programs:

Women do not have as much relevant experience as men in running large athletic departments. Andy Geiger, Stanford's athletic director for the past 10 years, subscribes to this view"The women's athletic director did not have to deal with major fundraising, large financial decisions, TV contracts, and very difficult, very public personnel decisions." Eileen Livingston, athletic director at Duquesne University agrees, but adds, "Women haven't been given the opportunity to learn, just like the men learned on the job when TV came on the scene. Give us the opportunity to do it, and we can do it as well."

Men's sports bring in the bucks. Traditionally, the two major money-makers among college sports have been football and men's basketball. They are, in the words of one male athletic director, die "cash cows." They bring visibility, gate receipts, and TV money. And according to several women in sports administration, many college presidents believe that a female athletic director could not run a competitive sports program. "Many men don't believe that women could find the best coaches," says Donna Lopiano, director for women's sports at the University of "Or maybe they don't believe that the best coaches would agree to work for a woman."

Women should not oversee the football program. This is the always unspoken-but apparently powerful-rationale for keeping women out of the upper levels of college sports administration.

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