Women Athletic Directors

While there are NCAA athletic programs for both male and female athletes in every conference, this level of parity on the field is not reflected in the back offices. In some of the larger conferences, women are highly underrepresented in universities’ athletic departments.

Almost half of the NCAA’s athletes are women, and that number has steadily increased since 1981. According to the NCAA’s most recent data in 2018, 44% of all student-athletes were female. Now with women dominating on the field, the fight for equality is not over yet. The number of women in administrative roles in college athletic departments are small.

Only 21% of all athletic directors on college campuses are women. While women are
represented on the field, women are underrepresented in leadership roles in college that make up the Power 5 conferences.

Those conferences that make up the Power 5 are the ACC, Big Ten, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC.
Out of the 65 colleges in those conferences, only four of those schools have female athletic directors: Sandy Barbour from Penn State, Jennifer Cohen from The University of Washington, Heather Lyke from Pittsburgh and Carla Williams from The University of Virginia.

Why are there only four, you ask? According to Patti Phillips, CEO of Women Leaders in College Sports, “The Power 5 level is the most male dominated part of college athletics because of the money and because of big-time football and basketball, which have traditionally been sort of the male boys’ club things. It’s much harder for women to break into these roles because of that.”

According to Sandy Barbour, the athletic director at Penn State, women aren’t able to supervise football programs as they can’t play the sport. Even though there are only four female athletic directors at these Power 5 schools, other conferences are beginning hiring women as athletic directors.

In the smaller Big Sky Conference made up of only 16 schools, there were three female athletic directors leading these universities in 2018. That number increased in 2019, as Terry Gawlik was named the University of Idaho Director of Athletics, and Pauline Thiros became the Athletic Director at Idaho State University. Now with five female athletic directors in the Big Sky Conference, it leads every other conference in the NCAA in that category.

Other conferences need to copy the Big Sky Conference and put females in leadership positions. Today in the United States, there are more women attending college than men. While there are fewer female athletes than men on college campuses, there are more women’s teams. For the past 23 years, women’s teams in the NCAA have outnumbered men’s teams. With the emergence of more and more female athletes and women’s teams at the collegiate level, shouldn’t there be more women in leadership positions at these universities?

Patrick D. Gallagher, the chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees: “There’s no gender basis for competency here,” he said. “We’re talking about sports programs that are balanced by gender, roughly, so I don’t see any reason why, in a world we’re half women and half men, we shouldn’t see a similar parity.” We couldn’t agree more.

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