On Jan. 19, 2006, Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Volunteers defeated Vanderbilt 80-68, making Summitt the first woman in NCAA basketball history to win 900 career games.1 Ten years after that landmark win, women in coaching haven’t come quite as far as one might have imagined back in ’06. In fact, they’re even more underrepresented today than they were a decade ago. First, a moment to appreciate just how far ahead of the pack Summitt was: She needed just 1,072 games to reach the milestone, a mark that stood as the fastest in NCAA basketball history — all divisions, men’s and women’s — until it was broken by UConn’s Geno Auriemma last year. While Summitt retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, her 1,098 career wins still stand as the most by any coach, male or female, in college basketball. Even at Auriemma’s current rate of 31 wins per season, and with him having coached UConn since 1985, it would take him another five years to pass Summitt. In her 38 seasons, Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight NCAA Championships, trailing only Auriemma and John Wooden for the most in Division I basketball history; Summitt is one of just five female head coaches in any sport to win eight team titles at the Division I level.2
That last number seems especially lofty, because there aren’t many women winning D-I titles as a coach these days: During the 2014-15 school year, only five of the 17 women’s Division I team championships were won by teams with female head coaches. Overall, 40.2 percent of head coaches in women’s NCAA athletics last school year were women, and that number falls to 38.9 percent at the Division I level.Women’s basketball has consistently been among the best sports when it comes to female representation in the coaching ranks. Last season 58.6 percent of Division I head coaches were female — no other sport with at least 300 Division I programs had a majority of female head coaches.
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Yet while women’s basketball succeeds relative to other major sports, the percentage of female head coaches in the sport has actually been declining over the last five seasons, both overall and most severely at the Division I level. In the 1996-97 school year — the first season in a streak of three consecutive national championships for Summitt and the Lady Vols — 62.3 percent of head coaches in women’s Division I basketball were female. That number rose to 66 percent in 2009-10 but has declined ever since. As the number of women’s programs increases, the number of female head coaches has decreased. In the 2007-08 school year there were a total of 329 women’s basketball programs in Division I and 209 female head coaches. Last school year, there were 343 programs but only 202 women in head coaching positions. Seven of those 14 new D-I programs had female coaches when they made the switch.
There’s one line of argument that considers more male coaches of female teams as an endorsement of women’s athletics. After all, Geno Auriemma is widely considered as one of the best basketball coaches at any level, and he’s spent his entire career coaching the Connecticut women. Summitt’s own son — Tyler — is the head women’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech. But that argument assumes a difference in coaching quality — a point that Auriemma, Auriemma’s female associate head coach, two female assistants and countless others refute. When asked if he would have won his national titles without longtime associate head coach Chris Dailey, Auriemma replied, “That’s like saying ‘would you have been able to win three national championships in a row without Diana Taurasi?’ I don’t think so.”
Indeed, the difference appears to be in opportunity. Sixty percent of women’s Division I head coaches last season were men, while only 3 percent of all men’s coaches were women.And like most industries, the percentage of women in authority positions continues to fall the higher you move within an athletic department. Across all of Division I athletics last school year — men’s, women’s and coed sports alike — 37 percent of assistant coaches, 35 percent of head coaches, and just 9 percent of athletic directors were women. That figure is up from just 7 percent in 1995-96, but has remained around 9 percent over the last five seasons.
When Title IX was enacted in 1972, more than 90 percent of women’s college teams were coached by women.3 Forty-three years later, that number has fallen to 40 percent. With the number of women’s athletic programs higher than it has ever been, progress on the sidelines has fallen well behind the standard set on the court.