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Stats that Matter: Counting Women’s Access to Play and Power

September 23, 2009 – 12:42 PM

Carpenter and Acosta with surveys to be mailed

By Laura Pappano

In a sports culture in which OBP, ERA, PR, SOG, QB Ratings (among others) rule the landscape, Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta track stats you won’t catch among box scores, but that have served a generation: Women’s access to play and power in college athletics.

“There isn’t a Congressional hearing or scholarly work on the issue of women in coaching and administration that doesn’t cite their research,” Donna Lopiano, former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, shared in an e-mail.

Beginning in 1977 using pencil and paper (the second year they switched to IBM punch cards and now use  actual modern computers), Acosta and Carpenter have made a career of surveying Division I, II, and III colleges to record women’s participation on the field and in coaching and administrative suites. They have tallied numbers and types of women’s teams, percentages of female head coaches plus paid and unpaid assistant coaches, and athletic directors. In 1994 (in a nod to an increasingly complex college sports structure) they added percentages of females in sports information director and athletic trainer roles.

In other words, these two women whose own sports experiences – as players, coaches, researchers, administrators, professors (Acosta has a PhD and Carpenter a PhD and law degree) – could shape a compelling narrative of the rise of women’s athletics, have through their data done something even more valuable: Made concrete the wins and losses for the women’s sports movement since the Title IX era began in earnest.

Their longitudinal data, said Lopiano, has provided “critical factual evidence of the absence of progress in opening the highest status and highest paying coaching position to females in college sports.” She says “there is no comparable work like it in the field” and is why “the advocates of Title IX continue to use and depend on this data.”

The project began — as many important things do — by chance.

Shortly after the passage of Title IX,  Acosta was waiting to speak at a conference organized by the AIAW, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (it governed women’s college sports until the NCAA took over in the 1980s).

“I was eavesdropping and I heard someone say, ‘Have you noticed how many men are coaching women’s teams?’ and someone else said, ‘Yeah. Has a study been done on this?’ – and a little light bulb went off,” Acosta recalled last month during an interview at the lakeside home she shares with Carpenter.  “I went to Linda and said, ‘We can do this. All we have to do is count!’”

Counting, of course, was (and is) a mammoth task that takes months. Even today, while they use computers to sort and tally data, all the surveys are sent out on paper because, says Acosta, “people expect it and it takes them 10 minutes.” The next round of surveys will be mailed in a few weeks (see photo above of Carpenter and Acosta in Carpenter’s office with surveys). They collect two year’s worth of data each time and make their reports available for free online. Click here for the most recent.

In it, Acosta and Carpenter note that 2008 marked the “highest ever participation by female athletes” with 9010 women’s teams, or an average of 8.65 per school (most popular women’s team offered by colleges, in order: Basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country, softball).

At the same time, however, the representation of females as coaches of women’s teams “remains low.” When Title IX was passed in 1972, over 90 percent of head coaches of women’s teams were women. Today, it’s 42.8 percent. A few other results of note:

—  21.3 percent of athletic directors are women, up from 18.6 in 2006
—  Only 27.3 percent of head athletic trainers are females
—  Only 11.3 percent of head sports information directors are female
—  Only 2-3 percent of head coaches of male teams are female (while 57.2 percent of women’s teams have a male head coach)

Check out Acosta & Carpenter’s article in Academe (journal of the American Association of University Professors), looking back on 37 years since the passage of Title IX.

Coming Tomorrow:  Q & A with Acosta and Carpenter

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