You cared about the March Madness weight room debacle. Care about this, too

Women athletes — and their coaches — are worth as much as men

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Brian McWalters/Atlantic 10 Conference

By Lily Robinson, Collegian Columnist

About a month ago, an Instagram post comparing images of the men’s and women’s weight rooms at the March Madness basketball tournament went viral. Suddenly athletes, coaches, fans and even members of Congress were scrambling to wag a finger at the NCAA for its unequal treatment of female athletes. The nation was shocked, but why? Underfunding, understaffing and generally failing to support and recognize women in sports is standard practice and you do not have to go on social media to find it. It is perpetuated right here on campus.

The University of Massachusetts is representative of the type of gender inequity that defines sports across the country. The University’s gender equity report from 2019 shows that there is over $1 million in additional scholarship funding available for male athletes than for female athletes. The school allocates nearly $500,000 more to recruiting men than it does women. And it spends $38,732 promoting men’s teams and $4,495 promoting women’s teams. Overall, men’s sports account for 65 percent of the University’s athletic expenses.

One of the greatest sleights, though, is not against athletes directly; it is against leadership.

In kind with universities across the country, most of UMass’ coaches are men. In 2019, there was one woman working as a part-time assistant coach for a men’s team. In comparison, five of nine head coaches and six of 22 assistant coaches for women’s teams were men.

The message is clear: women can lead women; men can lead anyone.

Men’s teams also get more coaches. While there are nine head coaches for each gender, there are 34 men’s assistant coaches to women’s 22. Since women are not hired to coach men, this leaves significantly fewer professional opportunities for women in sports.

It also means that when a woman does secure a job in athletics, she will be paid less. The average salary for the head coach of a men’s team at UMass is $272,672. For a women’s head coach, it is $129,658. For assistant coaches, those numbers are $81,582 and $46,727.

In 2019, coaches of men’s programs received a total of $319,329 in severance pay while women’s coaches received $24,999.

Title IX, a law passed in 1972 meant to protect against sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs and activities, did improve gender equity among collegiate athletes. Before it was passed only 1 percent of colleges’ athletic budgets went to women’s sports. In 2010, the most recent year for which the NCAA published a gender equity report, women’s Division 1 programs received 40 percent of resources.

Among leadership, Title IX had the opposite effect. Before 1972, over 90 percent of women’s coaches were women; by 2016, it was just over 40 percent. The numbers are worse when you look at the entire coaching pool; in 2020 only 23 percent of all collegiate coaches — for teams of either gender — were women.

Both scholarships and salaries at UMass are skewed because of football and hockey, two money guzzlers for which there is no women’s equivalent. Among sports that have a program for each gender, scholarship money is allocated fairly equally. In some sports, such as swimming and diving, track and field and cross-country, women’s programs actually award more scholarship money than men.

Almost across the board, women’s coaches are paid less than men’s coaches for the same sport. In some cases, women’s coaches make less than half the salary of the same men’s coach.

It is an issue that female athletes do not have do not have access to equivalently deep-pocketed sports, but the greatest injustice in athletics is the message that women are worth less than men.

It is easy to decry inequities like those seen at March Madness when everyone from your roommate to your congressman is joining hands and when you don’t recognize those responsible.

What is harder is lifting your head and looking discrimination in the eye when it is standing next to you. Especially if you are an athlete at UMass, the people who perpetuate inequality are your support system, your community, possibly your financial stability. But to create change that will truly level the playing field and afford respect to women in sports, we need that kind of advocacy.

Inequality needs to be recognized not only when it makes national news, but especially when it does not. So, we need to start asking ourselves a few important questions:

When we step onto a field to play: why are all the coaches men?

When we sit down in a stadium or flick on our TV to enjoy a game: why do I only watch men?

When we flip through a stack of job applications: why am I only considering men?

When we gather to make important decisions about sports: where are all the women?

Was it a coincidence that the Stanford coach who first spoke up on social media about unequal treatment of men and women at March Madness was a woman? Or is it that we have molded a sports culture that allows men to justify the devaluation of female athletes? The path to gender equity in sports is through increasing women in leadership. It is through fair compensation. It is through recognizing and addressing discrimination within our own institutions and among our own teams.

As athletes, coaches, even fans, we are willing to put it all on the line to be better. So what are we waiting for? When it comes to gender equity, let’s be better.

Lily Robinson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Lilyerobin.