The federal civil rights legislation known as Title IX was instrumental in creating opportunities for women athletes in high school and college sports. Previously, varsity sports were mostly reserved for men while women played club sports on teams with shoestring budgets. As Title IX opened doors for female athletes, though, coaching opportunities for women gradually dwindled after its passage.
Carol Hutchins has been the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines softball team for more than three decades. She has more than 1,500 career wins, making her the winningest coach in the history of University of Michigan athletics, across both men's and women's teams. She recently co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling out the gender disparity in leadership opportunities for women coaches.
Before the 1972 passage of Title IX, women held more than 90% of coaching positions in women’s sports. These jobs were often underpaid and part-time, but the coaches were passionate about the sport and wanted to help shape the next generation of women athletes.
The passage of Title IX meant schools had to start investing money into women's sports. As more full-time salaried coaching positions for women’s collegiate sports teams became available, the gender makeup of coaches began to shift. Today, women make up around 40% of head coaches for women's National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) teams.
“The presence of men coaching women is huge. Is there anything wrong with that? No. But if you look across the exact same men sports, across Division 1, across the Power 5, there's virtually no women of presence on any benches of any male sports in the NCAA,” Hutchins said.
While Title IX has made great strides in opening up collegiate sports to women, Hutchins said that there is still work to do when it comes to the gender bias in hiring and retaining coaches. Part of the problem, according to Hutchins, is that the people in charge of hiring coaches are college athletic directors, a role also dominated by men. Women make up less than 7% of athletic directors at Division 1 schools, according to the latest data from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“Men don’t seem to be offended by the fact that women don’t have a seat at the table," noted Hutchins. "I do believe if they were the population that didn’t have a seat at the table, they would look at it through the same lens that perhaps I look at it through."
Women coaches also face challenges when it comes to retention. When a male coach is fired, Hutchins said, it's understood that he wasn't a good fit for the program. When a woman loses her job, it's seen as evidence that she wasn't a good coach. And those women, Hutchins added, are less likely than men to get a second chance at a coaching career.
"I've seen a Hall of Fame softball coach who had over 900 career wins who lost her job and couldn't even get a job interview elsewhere," she said. "It's really common that when a woman is fired, no AD [athletic director] wants to touch them."
Hutchins hopes that her efforts to call attention to the disparities between men and women coaches can be the first step toward fixing them. As one of the country's most successful coaches, she said she feels a responsibility to be vocal about the issue.
“It is on people like myself to speak out, to ensure that I give women an opportunity as I want to see my young women who play under me, young women who I play against, have that opportunity go out and get a chance to do what I’ve done my whole life.”
This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan.