When Pete Gaudet switched from coaching men's basketball to women's at Vanderbilt University, he wasn't quite sure what he was getting into.
But after coaching males for almost 30 years, he figured, why not? After all, he says, he'd have the chance to "coach a young team with nationally recognized players in the Southeast Conference, the best in the country for women's basketball."
The decision placed Mr. Gaudet in a relatively new league: male coaches of women's college teams.
Thirty years ago, women dominated as coaches of women's teams. But as these teams have grown in number and prestige, the percentage of women coaching them has plummeted to an all-time low. The percentage of women coaching men's teams, meanwhile, remains negligible.
Expanded job opportunities for young women may in part explain the shift. Sexism is another concern: Some say that male athletic directors, who outnumber females 5 to 1, often simply prefer to hire men.
But despite growing concern over the situation, little is being done to change it. "There's a lot of outcry now over the serious lack of female coaches, but not enough being done to solve the problem," says Linda Carpenter, a former physical-education professor at Brooklyn College in New York and co-author of the "Women in Intercollegiate Sport" survey.
According to the study, women coached more than 90 percent of women's teams in 1972, the year the federal government enacted Title IX to ban gender discrimination in academics and school sports. But while the number of women's teams has grown because of enforcement of the law, only 44 percent are currently coached by women. And since 2000, 90 percent of new head-coaching jobs in women's athletics have gone to men.
But experts say these numbers don't simply depict discrimination against women in athletics. That is just one factor that's been at work as the coaching profession has evolved.
Jenepher Shillingford, the former athletic director at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, looks back at the old days and laughs. More than 40 years ago, when she started out as a field hockey coach, "women could be either a secretary, a teacher, or a nurse." Now, the horizons for young women are much wider than even a decade ago. "Women just aren't thinking about coaching, because they are seeing so much opportunity in law, business, and medicine," she says.
Not to mention the fact that coaching is a grueling, low-pay, high-stress job with little time off.
Karen Borbee, the head field hockey and lacrosse coach at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, knows what burnout feels like. She has seen the recruiting of star athletes take on much more importance in the past decade.
"Before, you were just expected to coach. You spent long hours with your players, who practically became your surrogate family." Now, she says, "you're also required to spend all your free time calling up potential players, trying to get them to join your team."
It's become more difficult, she says, to coach and have a family. "My practices are from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., which means I can't always eat dinner with my [two young] kids or help them with their homework," Ms. Borbee says. Games also eat up several hours every weekend. "I couldn't do this without a supportive husband," she adds.
Pay inequity is another reason the number of women coaches lags so far behind that of men. The average salary for head coaches of women's teams certainly has increased during Ms. Shillingford's time - from basically the thank-you note she would get at the end of a season to $62,124 a year in Division I, according to 2000 figures from the Chronicle of Higher Education. But across the board, coaches of men's teams get paid twice as much as those on women's teams.
The reason has to do, in part, with recruiting for coaching positions, Ms. Carpenter says. "When a male athletics director wants to find a new coach, he will hire away a male coach from other schools, but he won't do the same for women," she says. "The result is that men get paid top marketplace salaries ... while women's salaries continue to be depressed."
Men's college sports as a whole tend to be higher profile, generating more money for the school than do women's sports. That means athletic directors are more under the gun to have winning men's teams, especially in Division 1.
But even at the least-competitive Division 3 level, men still stand a much better chance of getting hired. "When [male athletics directors] need to hire, say, a new tennis coach, they are more likely to hire someone they know - and that person is more apt to be a Joe than a Josephine," Carpenter says.
Many male athletics directors say they would like to have more female coaches, but they just aren't applying. "Every time I have an opening on a women's team, I have three times as many men applying," says Richard Farnham, athletics director at the University of Vermont.
Men seem to be more willing than women to hop around the country to pursue better coaching positions, he says.
But men also grow up having plenty of male coaches as role models. "Women aren't likely to have a single female coach until high school," says Mr. Farnham. He sees the impact that had on his college-age daughter, who had her first female coach when she joined high school track. "That coach made such a difference to her that now she wants to become a college track coach," he says.
In another decade, he predicts, more women will enter coaching because more will have grown up playing sports. It's their demand, after all, that has increased the percentage of NCAA colleges offering women's soccer, for instance - to 88 percent, from only 3 percent in 1978.
However, that also means more women will be entering professional leagues in basketball and soccer - drawing skilled candidates who before might have been coaches.
Still, as more women come online, hopes are rising that they can get into coaching men's as well as women's sports. Women coached 2 percent of men's teams 30 years ago, and that figure hasn't budged.
Progress there would be more important than boosting the number of female coaches in women's sports, says Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "We need to break open the closed positions in men's sports, jobs that are higher in status and in salary...."
Farnham says he'd be willing to hire a woman to coach a men's team if she were the best candidate. But there are other issues, he says, such as a stigma that women don't belong on certain men's teams like basketball or football. "There's also a certain intimacy ... that might be jeopardized with a female coach," he says.
Ms. Lopiano say it's just that type of stereotyping that needs to be reversed. She points to top female coaches like Pat Summitt, head coach of the University of Tennessee women's basketball team, who last year was approached by the men's team.
"We need to think outside the box and encourage our young female coaches to go into men's teams," says Sarah Feyerherm, assistant athletics director at Washington College in Maryland. Ms. Feyerherm says she also tries to get more female coaches on her women's teams.
Sports associations should reach out to girls in junior high, Carpenter says. The NCAA holds an annual conference for student-athletes, where they can learn about coaching. Member schools have student-athlete advisory councils that convey such information. But "we have a lot more we could be doing," says the NCAA's director of professional development, Rochelle Collin.
If you want more women coaches in college sports, try making role models out of the ones who already exist. That's the reasoning behind the annual conference at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania that brings together coaches and student athletes from a dozen area colleges.
"The goal is to educate women on the state of female athletics and motivate them into coaching careers," says Jenepher Shillingford, founder of the symposium and the former director of athletics at nearby Bryn Mawr College.
Since the first gathering in 2000, half of the participants have gone into coaching.
"This is a lot more than I had expected; these women were only considering coaching," Mrs. Shillingford says.
The symposium covers everything from the history of Title IX to stereotypes of coaching.
Erin Fitzgerald, an Ursinus senior, says the meeting in January was a turning point. "Hearing about the coaching experiences of the women speakers definitely motivated me to coach field hockey when I graduate."
For the presenters, too, it was a valuable opportunity to get together. "Women [in athletics] need to do more networking, not just to get jobs, but to seek each other's advice on things," says Sarah Feyerherm, assistant athletics director at Washington College in Maryland.
Shillingford's next goal is for more colleges to participate in her symposium, or to start their own. She says the NCAA will offer seed money.
"Maybe [the symposium] isn't a ton, maybe it's not changing the world. But you do whatever you can, and that's how you change things," Shillingford says.