Joining the Boys' Club


The world of an athletic director (AD) is a dizzying one. Long and irregular hours are spent talking to coaches, going to games, attending meetings and overseeing an entire institution's athletic department. Stress-levels can run high and sleep-levels can run low. It's a job that you never really escape. Instead, you live it. For those who choose the profession, it's tiring, but most say it's worth it. Getting there though can be the biggest challenge of all — especially if you're a woman.

As we get into the new year, it's useful to look back to see where we are going and, maybe, where we should be going. The number of female athletic directors has been increasing, but the increase hasn't exactly been promising for the state of the profession.

A recent study, “Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal, National Study Twenty-Seven Year Update 1977-2004,” shows exactly how much things have and have not changed over the years. The annual study reports that there were 11 more female ADs in 2004 than 2002, but with an increase in the total number of programs, this number is pretty static.

“I don't know if it's an increase or just a shift,” says Laurie Garrison, the assistant executive director of communications at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. “New women are becoming ADs, but there are also women leaving. If there has been an increase, it's only been slight.”

The numbers really depend on an understanding of the situation, Garrison says. It's possible that the new opportunities have been at problem schools where the position is less desirable and women have a better chance because fewer candidates apply overall, she says.

The report also shows that the larger Division I schools have the smallest percentage of programs with a female AD at 8.7 percent, while Division II schools include 16.9 percent and Division III schools come in with 27.5 percent.

Judy Rose has been at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte for 30 years. She's been the AD there since 1990 and has seen more women enter the field, but like the research says, it isn't always at the biggest schools.

“But it's been nice to see that opportunities have truly been available,” says Rose.

While the numbers may not clearly show forward progression of women in the field, some say the climate is much better now than it was when they started. After all, females are being considered and getting high-profile positions now.

Take, for example, Dawn Rogers, who in June 2004 with her promotion from an internal position at Xavier University, became the 24th female AD serving at an NCAA division.

“There is a willingness for college presidents to give serious consideration to females,” Rogers says. “In my case, Xavier had been moving the institution forward and recognized that this was important.”

For some, though, it still remains a tight, men-only club that women have just started to break into.

“It was previously an all-male cultural phenomenon,” says Donna Lopiano, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. “Title IX doesn't apply to jobs. It only says female athletes have to see the same quality of coaching.”

After the passage of Title IX in 1972, record numbers of girls starting participating in sports. However, leadership positions, such as coach and AD, became almost exclusively the domain of males — even though these positions where previously held by females before the legislation passed. In fact, when Title IX was enacted, more than 90 percent of women's intercollegiate athletics programs were administered by a female. Today, 17.8 percent of women's programs have no female involved in the administration at any level, according to the report.

How do females break into the “all-boys' club?” Many in the field say networking is the only way to go, and it's the best way to get in. This is especially important because for some, the job isn't the most desirable because of its long hours and high demand for successful sports programs.

“In the past I'd read and heard that a lot of women weren't going into coaching and athletic administration because they didn't want to put the time in,” Rose says. “We need female mentors. I would encourage women to look at the profession and see if there's a fit somewhere.”

At some schools though, getting in the door is a bit easier, and so is staying there. Rogers says having a climate that is not only willing to see a female fill the AD spot, but also one that recognizes personal needs and commitments, is one that she doesn't ever take for granted. With a husband and two kids, Rogers is used to the juggling act of family and work.

“When you hire a woman, especially women with a family, there is a great concern that you're not able to do the job — not a concern from just the institution's standpoint, but that it's also right for the person,” Rogers says. “For college presidents there is a legitimate concern. Can you handle both responsibilities? It's unfortunate that this is not seen for a man, but honestly, the roles are very different.”

Rogers balances work and family by being highly organized and knowing she's going to miss certain events in her children's life. However, she says Xavier is aware of those demands and is flexible.

“First, you need to do your job and fulfill those obligations,” she says. “But there's just as many dads in our department that have to leave to pick up their kids, so I'm not alone in that juggling act.”

However, Rogers's situation is by no means the norm. She knows other women in the industry who have felt that their school or situation was not family-friendly and, therefore, they consciously decided to not have children.

In some instances though, being a female helps. Rose's gender definitely didn't hurt her when she joined the committee that decides which schools enter the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Although she's now termed out of the committee, she was the only female in the group. For some committees a certain number of women are required to be included.

“Whether we choose to take advantage of those opportunities is up to us,” Rose says.

One thing is for certain though, the women at the top of the athletic administration chain didn't get there by accident.

“All [the women] have earned it,” Garrison says. “They haven't been given it.”

Perhaps the next time the authors of “Women in Intercollegiate Sport” release their report, the numbers will tell a different story.

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