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NEWS ANALYSIS: For Black Women Coaches: You Haven’t Come a Long Way Baby

While much attention has been paid to ensuring that the coaching staffs of men’s college and professional sports teams reflect the diversity of the teams they lead, a review of the racial composition of women’s collegiate basketball coaches reveals a surprising and disturbing lack of diversity.

Among the most glaring findings:

  • There are no Black women head coaches in most of the nation’s premier conferences, such as the Big Ten Conference.
  • While the Atlantic Coast Conference has more Black head coaches than White ones, there are no women among them.
  • The Pacific 10 Conference and the Big East Conference each have only one Black head coach.
  • With the recent departures of Pokey Chapman at Louisiana State University and Carolyn Peck at the University of Florida, the Southeastern Conference now has no Black women head coaches.

The findings beg one question: How can such a disparity exist in women’s college basketball when other sports and leagues are falling over themselves to address diversity? To much fanfare, two Black head coaches faced off in Super Bowl XLI, a first for the league. Black head coaches have paced the sidelines in men’s college basketball for decades, and in the ACC, Black coaches outnumber White ones 7-5. No other league boasts such a proportion.

Most experts say the situation for Black women won’t change without aggressive action by NCAA leaders. Many point to the NFL’s Rooney Rule as an effective model. Named after the legendary owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rule requires each NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate during any head coaching search. In a similar vein, most college teams participate in the Black Coaches Association protocol, whereby they agree to at a minimum interview potential Black head coaches.

“Unless they do something like [the Rooney Rule,] nothing is going to change for Black women,” says Cathy Parson, the head women’s basketball coach at Howard University. But NCAA officials say the Rooney Rule won’t be coming to the college ranks.

“We’ve looked at and discussed the Rooney Rule but it’s not the route we want to take. We are a voluntary membership association and we are taking other approaches,” says Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA’s director of diversity and inclusion. “We are aware of the disparity in basketball coaching and we are taking a pipeline approach to addressing it. You’d think that with over 40 percent of the players being African-American that the coaching numbers would be more representative.”

A Diversity Game Plan

According to many observers, structural barriers are restricting the coaching pipeline for Black women. It’s widely accepted that coaches must serve their time in the trenches before ascending to take over a program. But many female coaches spend years as assistants only to see head coaching jobs taken by male candidates. The tendency for schools to hire men to coach women’s teams also serves to make the competition for the few choice openings that much fiercer for Black women.

“Basketball has a lot of entrenched traditions. While Black men have made significant progress, Black women have a lot of things working against them, including the fact they are often not well connected,” says Parson. “You have situations where someone like Dawn Staley, who starred at the University of Virginia and the WNBA and is now back to coach in her hometown, but those are rare. So you need some type of proactive approach.”

NCAA officials say they have already instituted two such programs.

One program, called “So You Want to Become a Coach,” helps student-athletes gain a better understanding of what it takes to enter the coaching profession.

“It only makes sense that we start with the student-athletes because it follows that people who play basketball are the one’s who are most likely to come into the coaching profession,” says Westerhaus. “Fortunately, many of our students have other career options, but in terms of our pipeline approach, this is where we start.”

The other program, known as ACE-Achieving Coaching Equity, is geared towards minority assistant coaches. The three-year-old program takes a mentoring and networking approach. “Each year, we bring seven to 10 assistant coaches together and plug them into a system that so far has shown promising results in that at least two coaches a year have obtained head coaching positions” says Westerhaus. To be eligible for the ACE program, a coach must have at least five years of coaching experience.

Next year, the Black Coaches Association plans to expand its annual Report Card to include women’s basketball. The survey, which chronicles the hiring decisions at the college and professional levels, is regarded by many as the best barometer of diversity in sports. As women’s basketball continues to grow in popularity, many say they will have to face the same diversity questions that have dogged their male counterparts.

“Like a lot of things in this society, this an evolving process, and right now Black women are at the back of the line,” says Parson. “Someone or something has to intervene to change that.”

–Diverse staff

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