DALLAS — Friday’s opening game in the women’s Final Four here will feature two of the most prominent female coaches in college basketball.

Tara VanDerveer has won two national championships at Stanford and coached the American women to a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Dawn Staley, the recently named 2020 Olympic coach, won three gold medals as a player and has guided South Carolina to the national semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

Yet even as VanDerveer and Staley again appear on their sport’s most visible stage, the opportunity for women to coach female collegiate athletes has stagnated after a decades-long decline.

In 1972, when the gender equity law known as Title IX was enacted, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams across two dozen sports. Now that number has decreased to about 40 percent.

“I want to think sexism is too simple of an answer, but what is it if it’s not that?” said VanDerveer, the only woman besides Pat Summitt to have won 1,000 career games in Division I. “Anytime someone hires a male coach and says, ‘Coaching is coaching,’ well, why aren’t more women in men’s basketball?”

The most successful coach in women’s college basketball is Geno Auriemma of Connecticut, which has won 111 consecutive games and is seeking its fifth consecutive national title — and 12th over all. In the second semifinal of the N.C.A.A. tournament on Friday, UConn will face Mississippi State, also coached by a man, Vic Schaefer.

Earlier in his career, Auriemma said he felt some antipathy toward his success because he was a man, but no longer.

“I would like to think I’ve done too much for the growth of the game for people to resent the fact that I’m a man,” he said.

“Coaches don’t really specifically talk about Geno,” Staley said. “They probably more talk about dethroning him.”

Coach Dawn Staley of South Carolina. The other Final Four teams, UConn and Mississippi State, are led by men. Credit Rich Pedroncelli/Associated PressPhoto by: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

On Thursday, Auriemma said fewer women wanted to coach because they had far more career opportunities beyond teaching, and basketball, than they did when Title IX was enacted.

“It’s quite simple,” he said.

But that characterization would be vigorously disputed by a number of female coaches.

“Basketball is not a gender,” Staley said.

She added: “I do think that women should be given the opportunity to coach women. I think a lot of times, maybe administrators are going through the process of hiring somebody with the mind-set of a male. When you go into that mind-set, you don’t give women an opportunity to be heard.”

The answers Stark found were numerous and complicated: As more money and higher salaries came into college sports, men became increasingly interested in coaching women’s teams. (In October, Auriemma signed a five-year contract extension that will pay him at least $13 million).

The same opportunity did not run in the other direction. Only about 3 percent of men’s teams are coached by women. Meanwhile, 80 percent of college athletic directors are men.

Muffet McGraw, the longtime women’s coach at Notre Dame who won the 2001 N.C.A.A. championship and is a member of the board of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, said in a telephone interview: “We seem to lose women, and so we’re looking to see: Is it because of a lack of a work-life balance? It’s a demanding profession for men and women, but a lot of women have other responsibilities at home.”

The number of female head coaches varies widely, depending on the sport, at 86 universities at the highest level of Division I competition, according to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

Field hockey, lacrosse, golf, equestrian and softball received a grade of A from the research center in 2016-17 for the percentage of female head coaches of women’s teams in the American Athletic Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Pacific-12 and the Southeastern Conferences.

Among the women’s Final Four programs, Stanford and South Carolina were given a C for their hiring of women as head coaches, and UConn and Mississippi State were given a D by the Tucker Center.

When McGraw last had an opening for an assistant coach at Notre Dame, she said, the proportion of male applicants compared with women was about 70 percent to 30 percent.

“I don’t think it’s generally about the money and business part of it, so much as they like the quality of life where they are,” she said. “The work-life balance, I think, is a bigger issue for women than it is for men.”

It is also clear that some women have been dissuaded from pursuing coaching careers.

Kara Lawson, who played for Summitt at Tennessee from 1999 to 2003, was early into her W.N.B.A. and broadcasting careers in Sacramento when she asked to attend a practice of the Sacramento Kings of the N.B.A. The Kings declined, she said, saying she might “distract” the players and offering only to let her watch the workout through a one-way mirror.

“I look back on that and I’m like, is my life totally different” than it might have been?” said Lawson, now an ESPN commentator. “I wanted to be a coach.”

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association has been trying to change the narrative. Sixty-one graduating female players have been invited to its convention this week in Dallas. They are participating in a workshop, So You Want to Be a Coach, that is intended to raise their awareness and spur their interest.

For these reasons, she said, “we haven’t been welcomed everywhere, and Dawn welcomed me and my family. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”

Homophobia, Balcomb added, “is the white elephant in the room that doesn’t get talked about.”

Anucha Browne, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for women’s basketball championships, said it was vital for both male and female coaches and administrators to give women more coaching opportunities.

“It’s critical that we need to do something to stem the decline of women in the coaching profession,” Browne said.

Correction: April 1, 2017
An article on Friday about the stagnation of coaching opportunities for women in women’s college basketball misidentified the organization that governed women’s college sports at the time Title IX was enacted, in 1972. It was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, not the N.C.A.A.

© 2017 The New York Times Company.
[IMAGE: Eric Gay/Associated Press]


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