Jacquie Joseph is less than a month away from beginning her 26th season at the helm of the MSU softball team.
As she approaches her third decade in the green and white, she’s seen the highs and lows of Spartan softball. From seasons under .500 to NCAA Regionals appearances, Joseph has seen it all.
In that time her coaching style and understanding of the game may have changed, but what hasn’t changed is her goal of being a positive female and professional role model for her players.
“I’ve always set it as a goal or mission to help women get into coaching, stay in coaching and thrive in coaching,” Joseph said. “It starts by (women) seeing good role models in (coaching), that we model a life that is worth seeking.”
Even though Joseph wants to show her players coaching is a worthwhile profession, she’s in the minority as a women’s head coach at MSU and in NCAA Division I athletics as a whole.
Nationally, Joseph is just one of the 1,463 women who hold head coaching positions for DI teams. Out of the 3,512 head coaching position for women’s teams in DI athletics, only 41.7 percent are occupied by female coaches according to the most recent Head Coaches of Women’s Collegiate Teams report published by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women Sports
The other 58.3 percent, or 2,049 jobs, belong to men.
“I think it’s critically important (for women to be in coaching), the same way it is for women astronauts, women doctors, women lawyers, women governors and hopefully someday a female president,” Joseph said. “It’s like any other boundary or barrier. I think when people can see it be done, then it takes that barrier away.”
The Tucker Center report doesn’t just look at the percentage of women coaching at each DI school, but also hands out a grade for each university based on the percentage of female coaches each university has for its women’s sports teams.
In the most recent report, MSU received a C because women occupy only 46.2 percent (6-of-13) of the available head coaching positions for women’s teams.
There are seven schools from the Big Ten that received a higher grade from the Tucker Center than MSU, including Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.
As a conference, women represent 46.2 percent (85-of-184) of head coaching positions for women’s teams in the Big Ten.
“The good news is that the trend is going up,” Nicole LaVoi, co-director of the Tucker Center, said. “It’s going in the right direction, albeit very slowly. The other good news is we know from our
report card that there are a handful of schools that are doing really well and that we should celebrate and learn from them.”
LaVoi started the Tucker Center report seven years ago.
The goal of the report is to start a conversation in hopes of getting more women hired for head coaching positions. Since the report started, the numbers of women coaching have remained stagnant, hovering close to 40 percent.
LaVoi admits it will take more than her work at the Tucker Center for that to change.
Public outcry puts pressure on those who make the hiring decisions, but even if there is public outcry, there are other barriers preventing women from getting hired for coaching positions.
Why women coaches matter
Victoria Jackson, a lecturer on sports history at Arizona State University, said there are multiple reasons why it’s important for women to hold coaching positions.
One reason is that it’s crucial for women to see other women in positions of power. Another reason deals with the physiology of women’s bodies.
“Men can learn how to train a woman’s body or talk about periods and stuff like that, but to have a woman coach, who just immediately understands it because she has experienced it too, there’s ways of understanding that you just don’t get,” Jackson said.
For Jackson who grew up in the late ‘90s it was rare for women to coach anything. If they did, it was in an assistant coaching capacity.
There are also institutional and social barriers that keep women from obtaining positions as head coaches.
Understanding the institutional barrier requires knowing who’s in charge of hiring coaches, Jackson said.
When a coaching position becomes available, a hiring committee composes a list of names to fill the opening.
The committee may consist of assistant athletic directors, but the final say belongs to the athletic director who’s in charge of hiring for the athletics department.
The issue is, as Jackson points out, athletic directors hire people they know or who are similar to them.
“You’ll have a hiring committee that will select finalist who look like them,” she said. “If that hiring committee is made up of associate athletic directors who are all men, they’re more likely to have a pool of candidates who are all men and maybe one woman, but statistically, we know if there’s one token woman, in a pool of finalists, she’s most likely not going to be hired.”
Only 6.2 percent (8-of-130) of athletic directors in FBS schools were women as of 2017 according to the most recent TIDES report, an organization which looks at gender and racial hiring practices for sports leagues around the country, on NCAA DI leadership.
At MSU, there has been one female athletic director, Merrily Dean Baker, who served in the position from 1992-95. The other 18 athletic directors have been men, including the most recent athletic director, Bill Beekman, who was hired last year.
Besides athletic directors overwhelmingly being men, the other barrier is while men frequently apply and receive positions on men’s teams and women’s teams whereas women are almost never hired to coach men’s teams.
“Say you’re an assistant baseball coach, and you realize you’re never going to get that head coaching job, you’re going to apply for a head softball coaching job because you want to run your own program, so it pushes the women out,” Jackson said.
Solving the problem
Julie Rousseau, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University whose research examines gender and racial disparities in coaching and former coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, said one reason women don’t receive consideration for open coaching positions is because there’s nothing requiring universities to consider them.
For instance, the NFL has the Rooney Rule, which requires each NFL team with an open position at head coach to interview at least one diverse candidate.
Rousseau thinks the NCAA should adopt a similar policy to ensure women get equal consideration for head coaching jobs.
“If the NCAA can impose infractions and recruiting violations and any other types of violations, then I think they need to be able to begin to see how they can impact the hiring practices of coaches,” Rousseau said.
Until something like that happens, hiring is left up to the discretion of the athletic departments of universities.
“It’s going to take — and is taking — a concerted effort of a lot of various stakeholders and individuals and groups working on different initiatives to shift the needle,” LaVoi said. “The bottom line is, we need those that do the hiring to believe and value and support women and give them the opportunity to coach.”