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Acosta & Carpenter on why it’s nonsense-talk that females want male coaches, why women’s teams shouldn’t be the Lady (fill in the blank) — and more

September 24, 2009 – 5:14 AM

By Laura Pappano
and Lauren Taylor

R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, professors emerita at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College and co-authors of a book on Title IX, have collected data on women’s roles on – and off – the field in college athletics since 1977.  They have chaired departments, taught pre-med courses, coached men’s and women’s college teams, and been a force in the governance of athletics for decades. Acosta played varsity basketball, field hockey, volleyball, tennis, softball and badminton for Brigham Young University during her college days; Carpenter was on BYU’s basketball, volleyball, softball, swimming, and gymnastics teams (“The seasons were short” back then, notes Acosta)

Today, Carpenter enjoys waterskiing, golf, and badminton. The day before her 70th birthday in July, Acosta won gold and silver medals in badminton at the Connecticut Senior Games. She also enjoys golf. We spoke with Acosta and Carpenter at their lakeside home last month.

FGN: Your data shows that just 42.8 percent of women’s college teams have female coaches, down from over 90 percent when Title IX was passed in 1972. Why does this matter?

LJC: It is important for female coaches to be around because [playing college sports] is a very intense part of your life and to ave female role models in an intense part of your life is particularly valuable. Guys have role models everywhere – politics, business – they are tripping over male role models.

FGN: But you hear some women saying they prefer male coaches…

RVA: Today if you ask women if they would prefer to have a male or female coach, most would say “male” because that is what they know. I would like to see more females coaching both males and females [only 2 percent of men’s team have female head coaches]. They need to see women as capable leaders, as capable of making decisions.

LJC: The studies [suggesting women prefer male coaches] are flawed. Your feelings for your coach are often related to whether it was a good season for you, if you liked the people you were with. I wouldn’t want to play for Pat Summitt because I am someone who needs to be nurtured. But the door shouldn’t be closed in one direction; it should swing both ways.

FGN: Despite whistleblower laws and other protections, it remains rare for women at colleges and universities to raise concerns of inequities in athletics – and for them to be in danger of losing their job if they do.

RVA: If their goal is to keep their position and they have no allies on campus, they [female coaches] have only one choice: that is to be quiet. If they are not quiet, they are pegged as “troublemakers.”

LJC: And there is no trouble getting rid of them — you just don’t renew their contracts. We get so many calls from coaches and administrators when things are not going well. I ask, “Who across campus can you go to for informal information?” and they don’t even know a name. You need to be respected across campus and that only happens when you spend time on committees. I find myself when I am speaking with coaches telling them that a multi-year contract is more valuable than a raise.

FGN: Is coaching harder today?

RVA: The pressure on coaches for performance is huge. It is a 24/7 job. They don’t have lives. When I see my athletic friends coaching I ask, ‘How did it get to this point? When did athletics become so darned important on campus?”

FGN: But don’t you think sports are important?

LJC: It depends on what your goals are. Where athletics wags the tail of the institution, athletics needs to be downsized. Athletic directors should not make multiples of what presidents make.

RVA: Or coaches.

LJC: If you believe the data – and its hard not to believe the data – what is this about a money-making business? I don’t think athletic directors deserve to be on campus because they are making money. The question is: How do they contribute to the life of the campus? It is not about making money; [athletic departments] launder money!

FGN: So what does this mean in terms of institutional support for men’s and women’s sports teams?

LJC: There is no reason why, for example, the women’s basketball games should always be the warm up games for the men – or that the banquet at the end of the year be humongous for the guys and lunch at McDonald’s for the gals. If you are always the “Lady Knights” [while the men are “the Knights”] it will always be subtly less valued. If you are having an institution support a program – if the band goes to the men’s game and the head athletic trainer goes to the men’s game, the head athletic trainer needs to go to the same number of women’s games and the same with the band. And that is so easy to accomplish.

FGN: You have watched the development of women’s sports for 32 years. What has surprised you?

RVA: What has surprised both of us is soccer. When we started, it was almost non-existent. Now it is a huge sport – and becoming more and more popular.

LJC: The face of athletics changes, sports become popular and unpopular. They wax and wane. Gymnastics for men and women is a contracting sport. Same with wrestling. To the wrestler on the team, it is the only thing that exists. In the world, wrestling is waning. It is not waning because of Title IX, but because of poor administrative decisions.

FGN: How long will you continue to track the data?

RVA: We were going to stop after 25 years and colleagues said, “You can’t do that!” People trust us. That level of trust has developed because we always keep our word.

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