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Women moving into college athletic deprtments

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Monday, Dec. 26, 2011
 

Lisa Love was 24 years old and in graduate school when a career adviser asked what she hoped to do with her master's in educational administration.

"I said I'd like to be an athletic director of a big-time school — big football school, big basketball school, big Olympic sport school," Love said. "He said, 'Well, women don't typically do that, and you don't have any role models.' I said, 'I know, and I don't know if the glass ceiling is penetrable or not, but I'd love to have an opportunity to try my hand at it.'"

In 2005, at age 49, Arizona State University hired Love as vice president for athletics, the highest-ranking job in the department. Six years later she is one of just five women to occupy the top athletics administrative position at a Division I-A school.

Some believe the lack of women serving as athletic directors is about to change, with qualified women rising up the ranks. Others believe it would have changed already if not for qualified women — and men — who are happy occupying the No. 2 spot and who have no desire to take on the far more public role of athletic director.

Still others believe it's as simple as not having enough university presidents and chancellors willing to hire a woman to lead a major athletic department.

"I think it's a long journey that we've been taking for more than 40 years where half the population has said, 'Treat me fairly,'" said Chris Voelz, a former women's athletic administrator at the University of Minnesota and current leadership gifts officer at Women's Sports Foundation founded by Billie Jean King. "If we were to switch positions, would the men still be pleased with the position women have• To that end we have not arrived."

Consider:

> > Women hold just 5 of 120 athletic directors jobs at the highest level of college sports, Division I-A.

> > Across all three divisions in the NCAA, 1 of 5 athletic directors are women.

> > Division III boasts the most, with about 3 in 10 women holding such positions.

> > Fewer than 1 in 5 athletic directors in Division II are women.

> > In all of Division I, which includes I-A and the old I-AA, women hold about 1 in 10 athletic director jobs.

'Including football?'

Susan Bassett has been athletic director at Carnegie Mellon since 2005 and said she found the same thing in that role as she did as a coach of the men's and women's swim team at Union College in the early 1990s.

"Initial questions about can she supervise and coordinate a department including football might have been on people's minds, but once you get moving, making decisions and advancing the program, gender becomes completely irrelevant," said Bassett, who in June 2010 was named the Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year in the Central Region, in addition to her numerous other awards.

Yet Bassett still is met by curiosity and puzzlement when she meets people who aren't aware of who she is or what she does for a living.

"They'll say, 'The whole athletic department?' and I'll say, 'Yes, the whole athletic department,'" Bassett said. "They'll say, 'Even the men?' and I'll say, 'Yes, even the men.' They'll say, 'Including football?' and I'll say, 'Yes, including football.' It definitely takes them a minute to process it."

According to the Women in Intercollegiate Sport study, conducted every two years by Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta of the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, the number of jobs in athletics administration has more than doubled in the past 20 years from 1,874 in 1988 to 3,946 in 2010. Women held 34.9 percent of those jobs in 2010, or 1,378 in all.

But Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association and a former athletic director, says he has seen growth in the number of not only women but also ethnic minorities coming through the association's professional development programs.

In 2000, the association held its first athletic directors institute for associate athletic directors looking to make the next step.

"The first year we had 70 participants, and 35 were of ethnic and gender minorities," Baughman said. "This past July we completed our 12th consecutive institute, and the number of ethnic and gender minorities has been consistent.

"I'm encouraged by the things that are developing. If we want to be critical of ourselves and say this is how many women are ADs and if we want to call it sexist or put a label on it, then we have all of that to deal with before we can make progress. I'd rather focus on what are the necessary elements to improve those end numbers and let's get it working, let's support it and see how it evolves."

'Quite challenging'

A number of schools, such as Pitt with Donna Sanft and Louisville with Julie Hermann, employ women as a No. 2 person in charge of athletics. In fact, about 30 percent of assistant or associate athletic directors at Division I schools are women, according to the NCAA.

Love said she has many friends and colleagues — male and female — who are second in command but content with their job. While the criteria for athletic directors have changed over the years — from being a successful ex-football or basketball coach to someone with financial and fundraising acumen, among other skills — some qualified applicants are happier in more internal roles, Love said.

"It's kind of a personal dynamic of whether or not you want to step into the job description," she said. "(Being an athletic director) has a lot of meet-and-greet, fundraising, lobbying. It's a whole different scale."

Todd Turner has worked as an athletic director at four major Division I universities in four of the six BCS conferences and is founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates, a consulting and executive search firm based in West End, N.C.

He said many women are prepared to fulfill an athletic director's job at a Division I-A school, and he routinely recommends them as priority candidates. What he has noticed, however, is less willingness among women to relocate to gain experience required for such positions.

"Women are much more concerned about quality of life," he said. "If they're comfortable and happy in their situations, then having a new administrative challenge, even to make a few more dollars, isn't worth it. That may be a gross generalization, but that's been my experience."

But Carol Sprague, senior associate athletic director and senior women's administrator at Pitt, said she believes gender equity is still a societal change, and that takes time.

"If you could make money from the neck up, it doesn't matter what you look like from the neck down in the boardroom of a bank," she said. "We're not there yet in athletics."

Love said she believes there are qualified women who would make fantastic athletic directors, but it's a matter of finding the right situation, and many universities still lean toward the familiar rather than being progressive in their hiring.

But she would recommended that a woman with the desire to run an athletic department to go for it.

"I have no regrets about leaving a wonderful senior associate athletics director position at the University of Southern California to become an AD," Love said. "It's quite challenging, and a little of that has to do with gender but a lot of it has to do with the nature of a tough job."

In the minority

Five of 120 Division I-A athletic director positions are held by women. They are:

Name (School) Conference

Kathy Beauregard (Western Michigan) MAC

Debbie Yow (North Carolina State) ACC

Cary Sue Groth (University of Nevada-Reno) WAC

Lisa Love (Arizona State) Pac-12

Sandy Barbour (University of California) Pac-12

Local situation

Here's a look at the highest-ranking women in area Division I athletic departments:

Name — Title

Sherene Brantley — Duquesne Assistant athletic director for student services/senior women's administrator

Charmelle Green — Penn State Associate athletic director/senior woman administrator

Donna Sanft — Pitt Executive associate athletic director

Carol Sprague — Pitt Senior associate athletic director and senior women's administrator

Addie Muti — Robert Morris Associate athletic director & senior women's administrator

Terri Howes — West Virginia associate athletics director, sports development/senior women's administrator

Keli Cunningham — West Virginia associate athletic director for compliance

 

 

 
 


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