Authors: Elisa Van Kirk

Department of Education, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, US

Corresponding Author:

Elisa Van Kirkl
SLU- 23 Romoda Dr.
Atwood Hall 21
Canton, NY, 13617

Dr. Elisa Van Kirk is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Van Kirk played Division I softball and was a collegiate coach at the Division III level for over a decade. Currently, Van Kirk primarily works with the University’s graduate students who are pursuing a Master of Art in Leadership degree.
Van Kirk’s research focuses on collegiate athletics, athletic leadership, as well as sports and gender.

Title IX and Its Impact on Opportunities for Women in NCAA Coaching and Administrative Leadership


Title IX was evolutionary when first enacted, and it provided a framework to address equity in education in many respects; however, it has had limited effects in many other areas, including in NCAA athletic administration. In this commentary, a discussion is offered in regard to the ongoing impacts of Title IX in college athletics and ways in which this legislation has impacted women and their opportunities for leadership. Examples from the literature from women who once held roles in NCAA Division III leadership are considered and their experiences are drawn upon to demonstrate ways in which barriers and sources of inequity continue to exist. Recommendations are offered for women seeking leadership positions based on the experiences of the women in this study.

Key Words: Title IX, leadership, NCAA, Division III, hegemony


The Education Amendments of 1972, widely known as “Title IX,” aimed to ameliorate gender discrimination in publicly funded educational institutions. This act forbade discrimination from educational or extra-curricular activities based on gender by any institution receiving federal funding. While Title IX had broad implications for American schools, it had special resonance in athletics, in which female participation expanded in the decades following Title IX (1).

The proponents of Title IX have viewed the legislation as evolutionary and a fundamental step forward in advancing women’s rights. Originally drafted by Representative Patsy Mink, Senators Birch Bayh (3) and Bernice Sandler (20) provided evaluations of educational compliance to the act on various occasions and then provided recommendations for improvement. Their work significantly helped Title IX play a key role in promoting equity in athletics, leading to athletic equality standards in most schools. Although female athletes participate in college athletics in increased numbers, female coaches and administrators remain underrepresented in athletic departments across the United States (1, 21).

Despite the advancement of gender diversity in athletic organizations, women remain underrepresented in all levels of sports administration. This dearth of representation begins at lower levels of the organization, as many begin their careers as coaches and are promoted through the hierarchy. Yet, because women are not coaching in large numbers, they also have fewer opportunities to progress in athletic administration (11).

The purpose of this commentary is to critically evaluate current evidence of the impact of Title IX on college athletic administrations. Understanding the nature of representation not only illuminates an understudied part of collegiate sports, but also enhances understanding of employment patterns across divisions. Indeed, although the research does not all specifically focus on Division III schools, many of the dynamics elaborated herein do pertain to these programs. This paper provides a summary of relevant literature on Division III athletics and provides commentary on the most salient patterns within research.


Title IX has been effective at increasing the participation of women in school sports. In the decades since its implementation, female student participation in athletics increased five-fold (1). Female representation in administration jobs, however, has not seen a commensurate rise, and men hold nearly three quarters of all athletic administration jobs (1, 23). Furthermore, female coaches remain underrepresented in athletic departments across the country (11). This underrepresentation has downstream effects on administrative hiring practices, as coaching experience is often a necessary precondition to demonstrate the prerequisite bona fides (9).

The specific problem underpinning this commentary is that women do not achieve the same career advancement in college athletics as their male counterparts. Only 40% of female teams are coached by women, and 3% of male teams (1, 25). The specific reasons for the lack of coaches are multifaceted, attributable to factors like discrimination in the male-dominated field of collegiate athletics, patterns of women’s career development behaviors, and numerous other elements of career development (2, 5).

The sports industry has tended to perpetuate male dominance in society (1). Traditionally, society has used sports and physical education to prepare boys to be “real” men and as a means of mental and physician preparation war (11). This focus on the utility of sport as a training ground for the male-dominated sphere of war roots athletics in a hegemonic masculine culture, even if the focus on soldiering has faded. Issues of gender have continued to be paramount in contemporary American sport, and it is critical to consider gender when explaining this phenomenon of hegemonic masculinity (1). The social foundations of athletics in male-dominated spheres continues to impose restrictions on who may or may not participate. Although researchers have found that gender is a social construct, it has proven durable and can significantly impact social opportunities well beyond athletics (5). For example, recent research has shown that women attend and graduate college more often than men, yet women hold fewer than 30% of global leadership positions (5).

This paradox is vividly apparent in college sport administrative positions. There is evidence suggesting that female participation in collegiate athletics has increased 50 years after Congress passed Title IX, yet gender equity in administrative positions has not changed (2, 15). In fact, the percentage of women in leadership positions during this time has decreased. In the years before Title IX, more than 90% of athletic departments were run by women, but this dominance has eroded over time due to homologous reproduction, exclusion, bias, and a lack of mentorship (1, 14, 16, 22, 25).

While Title IX has changed the landscape of collegiate athletics for student-athletes, this legislation did not have commensurate consequences for female coaches and administrators. Stangl and Kane published a seminal paper in which they studied the decline in the number of female coaches since the passage of Title IX (22). These researchers offered insight into general education adherence to Title IX, suggesting that homologous reproduction (i.e., the replication of the dominant paradigm in a way that consolidates power within that group) occurred at the high school level (22). Their findings further demonstrated that Title IX did not increase female coaching rates at any level. Although Title IX increased the number of coaching positions by 185%, the vast majority (98%) of these were filled by men (16). Lanser (16) attributed this dominance to the persistence of gender-related stereotypes in college athletics, as well as the durability of male hegemony. Female coaches may be hesitant to advance their careers when they perceive athletics as a difficult work environment in which they must constantly prove themselves to their male counterparts (26).

A continued presence of hegemonic masculinity and an “old boys’ network” that continues to permeate collegiate athletic administrations. This network was predominantly male-centric and relied on a foundation of social connections and experiences predicated on male experiences. The results illustrated both (a) the progressing nature of a male-dominated environment in collegiate athletics because men actively helped mentor women in their careers and (b) the role of being proactive, optimistic, and confident in leadership in overcoming barriers (26).
Researchers have further identified women’s challenges in college athletics as due to exclusion (14, 16). Men are often resistant to women joining their ranks in coaching and administration. Scholars have reported that men still perceive women’s capabilities differently, and these biases impacts hiring practices (10). Women in sports are often perceived to be less feminine. Furthermore, the athletic climate is impacted by gender-based discrimination due to sexual orientation (2). Researchers have demonstrated widespread assumptions of homosexuality among female athletes, and this homophobia has been linked to limited opportunities for women to enter the coaching profession (17, 27).

These entrenched biases have negatively impacted retention in coaching and administration in athletics. Hegemonic male cultures, negative perceptions of ability, and sexuality compound to create a hostile working environment. These factors lead to high occupational turnover among women, resulting in a shortage of women qualified to fill coaching positions (6). High turnover and worker shortages exacerbate male-dominated cultures and prevent women from breaking into these exclusive circles. Additionally, women have traditionally communicated that the athletics setting can be isolating and lonely, and that they are often excluded from work social life (7, 24).

Mentorship has been shown to help alleviate some of these challenges. Various researchers, such as Bower (4), have identified mentorship as critical in fostering social support and professional development. Mentors help develop human capital and initiate individuals to organizational cultures, fostering inclusivity. This inclusivity is an important facet in retaining coaches and athletic administrators (19). The current climate of male-dominated athletics, however, has shrunk the pool of available female mentors. Notably, this is the case in both male and female athletics (1, 25). These dynamics condition potential coaches, athletes, and society at large to perceive coaching as a male profession. Researchers have noted that women who work in sports lack role models, and mentors may offer support to women who experience this gap (6). The growth of female participation of athletes has been commendable, but without upwards mobility of women in the hierarchy, this dearth of mentors is likely to persist.


The answer to this question appears to be “No.” There was initially a 6-year grace period before Title IX took effect in athletics. Gender imbalances abound in the NCAA administration—positions of leadership—and elsewhere in college athletics. Although there have been positive impacts for women in sports, those women seeking athletic administration positions have not received the same benefit. Indeed, while Title IX has helped increase female participation in athletics, it may have had deleterious effects on women in leadership positions. Prior to Title IX, women’s sports were overseen by a patchwork of organizations, with different jurisdictions and responsibilities. One such organization was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). After the implementation of Title IX, many of these organizations became redundant, and either faded away or were incorporated into the NCAA, as the AIAW did in 1982 (8, 13). These organizational shifts had significant consequences for women’s athletics. Before Title IX, women’s athletic departments were predominately run by women, with women coaches and women directors. After Title IX, however, these departments were merged with men’s departments, making many of the positions redundant and ultimately eliminated (28). Some attempts were made to avoid this outcome, such as the creation of new roles, such as the “Senior Woman Administrator” (SWA), to ensure representation. This too backfired, as the SWA became a terminal role for women rather than a rung on the administrative ladder (12).


The literature on Title IX has revealed several themes of the ongoing role of women in Division III athletics. The statues present in Title IX did vastly increase the number of women participating in collegiate athletics and expanded programs; however, because of Title IX, institutional reorganizations decreased the relative number of women in coaching and administrative positions within athletic departments. This underrepresentation has exacerbated the challenges faced by women in athletics. Women continue to face discrimination in a male-dominated environment and must navigate a highly masculinized infrastructure to advance in their careers. These challenges perpetuate a male-dominated system which produces high turnover among women and generates a dearth of female mentors for new entrants to the system. This body of research indicates a need for both organizational and cultural reforms within the collegiate athletic system. Specific reforms could be as simple as more explicitly defining the responsibilities of the SWA role. As it operates today, the vagaries of the SWA role often results in tokenism and relegation of real responsibilities to other, male-dominated positions. A redefinition of this role would empower those who hold the position to gain valuable experience for upward mobility. An expansion of initiatives, grants, and training programs would also broaden opportunities for female career advancement.


It is difficult for women to enter the collegiate athletics profession and ascend to leadership roles. For women who aspire to work in collegiate athletics, the opportunity to become a coach often serves as the entryway into the administration. Title IX has not positively impacted women seeking leadership positions in college athletics compared to female athletes. While federal laws have been passed to prevent and address employment discrimination, colleges and universities continue to deny women in collegiate athletics equality in the hiring process. The “old boys’ network” in college athletics persists. Mentorship may be particularly advantageous in overcoming some gender-related barriers for women seeking leadership positions. Support for women working in collegiate athletics is lacking, given the nature of collegiate athletics that often includes masculine networks. Researchers have highlighted the complex variables for female coaches and administrators working in collegiate athletics, showing that over time, Title IX has not been as effective as intended due to the “old boys’ network,” which excludes women from leadership positions in overt and covert ways.

Research has identified four key tools that can help women to better manage the gender inequities influencing their career progression: mentors, networks, educational opportunities, and terminal degrees (26). Additionally, the research has illustrated that being proactive, optimistic, and confident in leadership played a significant role in overcoming barriers in the male-dominated environment of collegiate athletics (26). Although Title IX has been effective at improving female participation in collegiate sports, it has not been as effective for women in leadership. Although the current body of research contains general discussions of the issues women encounter working in collegiate athletics, it lacks the specificity of the current research problem.  


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