March is an exciting time of year for college basketball; it's when the best of the best from across the nation compete to become number one. It's also the time of the year when head coaches are fired and new ones hired to freshen up stale or losing programs. This year, one of the first big women's head coaching jobs at the University of Arkansas went to Jimmy Dykes, a long-time ESPN commentator with little prior coaching experience and none in the last 20 years. It is a move that has prompted many to wonder -- are men taking over women's basketball?
In the five nationally recognized conferences that generate huge dollars and endorsements for teams and schools, nearly 1 in 2 women's head basketball coaches are male. This might not seem so bad until you consider the fact that there are no women head coaches on the men's side of the sport. And of the teams that made it to the sweet sixteen this season, 50 percent are lead by male coaches. This has not always been the case.
Four decades ago and prior to the passage of Title IX, which mandated parity in collegiate athletics among other things, men would rather breastfeed in public than coach women's basketball. It took trailblazers like C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers University and Pat Summit of the University of Tennessee to develop winning programs to put women's basketball on the map and begin to command compensation packages equal to their male counterparts.
The rise of men in women's basketball can also be attributed to the fact that aspiring male coaches short on experience are rarely hired to head up top programs on the men's side; boosters and fans wouldn't tolerate it. However, it happens far too often on the women's side of the game. Women with years of experience as both coaches and players are often passed over for men who view coaching women's basketball as a consulation prize, rather than as a lifelong passion.
Athletic Directors who are responsible for recruiting and hiring top talent are also a major factor in the shifting tide in women's basketball. Of the 74 programs in the top five conferences, women direct less than 1 percent of the programs. And similar to boardrooms and corporations across the country, when women are absent in top positions, it is most evident in the hiring practices of the institutions.
I get it -- the goal of any sports program is to win. There is no disputing the record shattering success of Leon Barmore of Louisiana Tech University and most recently Geno Auriema, but these men are the exception and should not be the rule in women's basketball.
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