A GLASS CEILING
THE PLAYING FIELDS?
Charles L. Kennedy
Penn State York
The Wall Street Journal first highlighted the problem of the glass ceiling in
March, 1986. Glass ceilings, of course, are the artificial barriers that deny women the
opportunity to advance within their careers. President George H. W. Bush established the
Federal Glass Ceiling Commission in 1991 to investigate the problem.
The glass ceiling exists from the executive door to the shop room floor. But does
it exist on our playing fields on our college campuses?
I first became interested in girls’ and women’s sports when my daughters started
playing youth soccer in the early 1980s. The league had a rule requiring all players to
play at least 50% of the game. I noticed the coaches usually substituted girls for other
girls, so the maximum playing time a girl would play in a game was 50%. The ability of
the girl seemed to not matter, each had 50% playing time.
Eventually, I went on to coach a mixed team when my son was playing ―Under 8‖
soccer. I devised an elaborate substitution system, so that all players played 2/3 or ¾
(male or female, fast or slow) of the time, depending on the number of substitutes. Of
course, I caught grief from several parents for not playing the best kids enough.
Another thing I noticed was that most of the coaches were men—women served
as ―the team mother.‖ Eventually, my daughters moved up to the all girls league and my
wife got involved as their coach. In reflection this was very important that she and many
other women stepped forward to provide positive role models for the girls. It must be
emphasized that the coach is somebody special. The coach is held in awe and merits the
Of course, this was the early 1980s. Title IX had only been in existence for a
decade. The increase in the number of girls and women playing sports has been simply
astronomical. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 1970-71, there were
only 29,992 women participating in college sports. This contrasts with 170,384 men
involved in college sports. In 2000-01, there were 150,916 women—a fantastic increase
of 408%. The meteoric rise continued as the number of female athletes reached a record
high for 2003-04. There were 202,540 female athletes in college sports. Arguably, this
transformation on our playing fields never could have occurred without the passage of
Title IX in 1972.
As a cautionary note, however, it must be recognized that women now comprise
56% of the students on college campuses, but only 41% of the athletes. In their classic
study of women in sports in 2001, the Women’s Sports Foundation concluded, ―While
women can no longer be considered token student-athletes on American campuses, they
are far from being full partners in the opportunity system of intercollegiate sport.‖
In my recent study, ―College Sports & Title IX #3,‖ the conclusion was
inescapable that women are not yet full partners. The study included 103 colleges from
10 conferences. These were the six major BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conferences
(ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-10, and SEC) and four of the ―mid-major‖
conferences—Mid-American (MAC), Mountain West, Western Athletic (WAC), and
Conference USA. The colleges and conferences were evaluated according to the criteria
of participation, scholarship, allocations, expenses, recruitment budget, and coaching
salaries. The Kennedy Index established a minimum standard or goal for the colleges to
aim. The college received a +/– score depending on how close they came to meeting the
Of the 103 colleges in the study for 2003-04, only 12 had a positive score on
participation and 48 were positive on scholarship. However, the numbers were very low
on the other three categories: only two had a plus score on operating expenses, four on
recruitment budget, and two on operating expenses. Only two schools finished with a
positive score—Nevada-Reno was +3.43 and Toledo was +1.20.
These low numbers become even more remarkable when the number of female
coaches is examined. None of the conferences reached the 40% standard for coaches of
all sports. The Big East had the highest average percentage of female coaches in the ―all
coaches category‖ with 32.36%. The MAC was lowest at 17.14%. The SEC had the
highest average of women as ―head coaches‖ with 30.15%. They were the only
conference to exceed 30%. The WAC was lowest at 23.18%. The Big East had the
highest average of women as ―assistant coaches‖ with 33.47%. The MAC was the
abysmal lowest at 11.63%.
The Big East would be the #1 conference with a total score of 95.04:
32.36% of all coaches are women
29.21% of all head coaches are women
33.47% of all assistant coaches are women
95.04% = TOTAL
The rank of the conferences and their total score:
1. Big East = 95.04% 6. SEC = 76.76%
2. Conference USA = 85.83 7. Big 12 = 73.73
3. Big Ten = 85.33 8. Mountain West = 73.34
4. ACC = 84.12 9. WAC = 68.82
5. PAC-10 = 80.19 10. MAC = 57.41
An interesting aspect of these results comes in the comparison with my study,
―College Sports and Title IX #3.‖ In this study the MAC, WAC, and Mountain West
scored the highest. This seeming contradiction is best explained that although these
conferences are in the lead in the categories for female athletes, they simply are not hiring
a high proportion of women to be the coaches and role models of their athletes.
For the number of female head coaches of women’s teams, none of the 10
conferences exceeded 60%. Four exceeded 50% and one conference, the WAC, was
below 40%. The Big Ten had the highest average number of female head coaches of
women’s teams with 54.89%, closely followed by the SEC at 53.5%. The WAC was in
the basement at 39.08%.
The numbers are basically similar for the numbers of female assistant coaches of
women’s teams. However, one conference exceeds the 60% standard. This is the Big
East at 62.78%. Four of the conferences exceed 50% and four exceed 40%. The MAC is
the only conference below 40% at 33.85%.
For women’s teams, the combined score of women head coaches and of women
assistant coaches has the Big East edging out the Big Ten for first place.
1. Big East = 114.33% 6. PAC-10 = 99.16%
2. Big Ten = 113.37 7. Big 12 = 92.00
3. ACC = 104.99 8. WAC = 91.67
4. Conference USA = 102.51 9. Mountain West = 91.30
5. SEC = 100.83 10. MAC = 83.42
It is extremely interesting to flip the coin of the study and examine the number of
women as head coaches and assistant coaches of men’s teams. As one might expect, the
numbers were extremely low. In the 10 conferences, there were 843 head coaches of
men’s teams and only 11 women or 1.3% were head coaches. There was a slight increase
with women assistant coaches of men’s teams. There were 2745 assistant coaches in the
10 conferences; 166 or 6.5% of these were women. Conference USA had the highest
percentage at 9.7%.
Do these numbers constitute a glass ceiling? I believe the obvious conclusion is
an inescapable YES. I am proposing a 40% goal or standard for women as coaches of all
sports. This number is based on the study ―Gender Quotas? Not in College Sports‖ by
Welsh Suggs in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The study indicated that the median
for operating costs for women’s teams for the 2003-04 season was 38% for all Division I
teams. Coupled with that fact, 41% of the athletes on college campuses are women. I
think 40% is a realistic and reasonable goal. It should be noted that none of the
conferences have attained this 40% goal.
I am also proposing a 60% goal or standard for women as head and assistant
coaches of women’s teams. I may be old fashioned but I believe that common sense and
right reason dictate that, whenever possible, women’s teams should be coached by
women. Additionally, since women now comprise over 56% of the student body, the
number of female coaches should be proportional. Therefore, I believe 60% is a very
realistic and very reasonable goal. It should be re-emphasized that only one conference
has attained this goal. This was the Big East for assistant coaches of women’s teams.
How could this be accomplished?
Government action should not be necessary, however. The time has come for the
NCAA to cross over the bridge into the 21st century and eliminate the glass ceiling on the
playing fields. The NCAA is the proper authority to initiate the action. The NCAA has
recently taken action regarding Indian mascots and nicknames, as well as limiting college
football media guides to 208 pages.
Additionally, the BCS has added an academic performance rate (APR) to evaluate
the colleges. It plans to evaluate its member conferences from top to bottom. It
established penalties for schools with low APRs and awards for schools with high APRs.
The NCAA simply could establish a series of recommended standards that the
colleges/conferences could set as their goal. These would not be quotes. The NCAA
could also have a system of penalties and awards for meeting the goals.
Even though there has been an enormous increase in the number of girls and
women in sports in the past thirty years, this study indicates that the hiring of women to
coach and serve as leaders and role models for female college athletes lags dramatically
This article was written in the spirit of continuing the dialogue on Title IX.
Hopefully, this continued dialogue will help make Title IX, ―clear, fair, enforceable, and
truly open to all.”