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College coaching: Where women still make pennies on the dollar

Joe Mussato, SHFW
Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese stands with her players during Monday’s NCAA Tournament game against Princeton. Frese, a national championship-winning coach, makes less than half of men’s coach Mark Turgeon

WASHINGTON – One university athletic department is the richest in the nation, while the other, a school spokesman said, is struggling to pay its light bill.

The University of Texas and Vanderbilt University have little in common in the college sports world. The loaded Longhorns are perennial contenders across all sports, while the Commodores are perpetual punching bags for Southeastern Conference heavyweights.

But besides ranking among academia’s elite, the two schools are atop a salary statistic neither is embracing – paying their men’s team coaches disproportionately more than their women’s team coaches.

The average coach of a men’s program at Texas makes about $1.3 million more than the average coach of a women’s team, according to the Department of Education’sequity in athletics data. At Vanderbilt, men’s team coaches make $1.1 million more than women’s team coaches on average.

Every college across all divisions is required by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Actto submit statistics  about its sports programs. The department averages all coaching salaries for men’s and women’s teams.

The Scripps Howard Foundation Wire pulled 2013 data from 65 schools, all members of the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, to conduct its research.

Coaches of women’s teams average less than one fourth of men’s team head coaches’ salaries. Texas and Vanderbilt have the biggest discrepancy, but no school pays women’s team coaches more than men’s team coaches.

“It’s saying one of two things: Schools are hiring less quality individuals for women, or they’re discriminating based on the sex of the participant – both may be true,”Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources, said.

Lopiano was chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 15 years, and before that, spent nearly two decades as Texas’ director of women’s athletics – the only job title of its kind in major college sports.

Chris Plonsky is the current women’s athletic director in Austin. Despite having the largest discrepancy between men’s and women’s coaching salaries, coaches of women’s sports at Texas are far from underpaid compared to their national peers.

The average head coach of a women’s Longhorn team makes more than $275,000 per year – the fourth highest in the nation, behind Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

“I’ve never had a coach leave because we weren’t paying them enough,” Plonsky said. “They’ve left for a lot of reasons, but never money.”

The reason Texas tops the salary list isn’t because the women’s team coaches are underpaid, it’s because the men’s team coaches rank among the richest in the nation.

The market for paying men’s basketball coaches is high, unbalancing the pay scale, but adding football coaches’ salaries is like tossing a boulder onto the scale, skewing the data completely. Football salaries are the outlier because of the market surrounding its highest paid coaches.

“Football has no corresponding women’s sport,” Lopiano said.

Texas’ Charlie Strong is the fifth-highest paid coach in college football, at $5 million per year. The others atop the $5 milllion-plus plateau are Alabama’s Nick Saban, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.

But the money Texas football makes helps explain Strong’s salary. Longhorn football generated more than $112 million in revenue in 2013 – all women’s sports combined made $6.5 million, according to the data.

While football is the driving force of Texas’ athletic department and other departments across the country, men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes’ salary costs the Longhorns another $2.55 million per year. Women’s basketball coach Karen Aston makes his decimal point, $550,000.

But under Title IX, the Longhorns are allowed to dole out substantial dough to Barnes, a more successful and experienced coach, while paying Aston considerably less.

“Title IX does not require absolute equality between the salaries of those coaching men’s and women’s teams,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in an email. “But at some point, a differential that is grossly disproportional can give rise to a lawsuit under Title IX as well as federal and state laws such as Title VII or the Equal Pay Act.”

The Office of Civil Rights oversees Title IX and “compensation for coaches is one of many factors considered in determining whether a school provides equivalent opportunity for its athletes,” a spokesman said in an email.

Title IX doesn’t look at salary, it looks at the quality of the coach a school is hiring, Lopiano said. Rather than automatically paying a men’s basketball coach more than a women’s basketball coach, Lopiano asks that the coach’s past success and longevity be the ultimate factor in salary.The OCR has 15 open Title IX cases, involving issues that include possible discrimination in interests and abilities with regard to assignment and compensation of coaches or tutors, the spokesman added.

Reverse logic is taking place at the University of Maryland.

Women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese has been at the school since 2003 and her résumé is highlighted with a national championship in 2006 and a dozen trips to the NCAA Tournament, including this year.

Men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon has been at College Park since 2011, and an early exit in this year’s NCAA Tournament is the only time he’s taken the Terrapins to the Big Dance.

Turgeon is the highest-paid employee in the state of Maryland at $2.2 million. Frese, while still well-compensated among her women coaching peers, sits a shade shy of $1 million.

“You can’t pay your men’s basketball coach $2 million and hire a lesser quality coach for women,” Lopiano said. “Where’s the $2 million coach for women? That’s what Title IX would ask.” 

But at Maryland, Turgeon has been the lesser quality coach while still doubling Frese’s salary. Frese and the Terrapins could be en route to the Elite Eight with a win over Duke on Saturday.

Maryland’s athletic department provided the following statement when asked to justify Turgeon getting paid more than Frese:

“Coach Frese has done an outstanding job in anchoring the program for the past 14 seasons. She has created a winning culture and a championship environment that our fans can be proud of here at Maryland.”

There’s a similar situation in Storrs, Conn., where women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has patrolled the sidelines since 1985. The Huskies are hunting down their 10th national championship under Auriemma, yet he isn’t even the highest paid coach in his own gym.

Third-year men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie makes $2.8 million per year. Auriemma makes $1.95 million. Both coaches let their teams to national titles in 2014, but the salaries don’t add up when Ollie has one ring on his finger and Auriemma has two hands full.

The school declined to comment on the story after being reached, but, like Strong’s football salary at Texas, the pay discrepancy is reflective of the revenue difference between men’s and women’s basketball at UConn.

Auriemma’s women’s program has more banners hanging in the rafters, but it generated just over $4 million in 2013 compared to $7.5 million in revenue for the men’s basketball program, according to the data.

Conference realignment knocked Connecticut out of a Power Five conference, but when its data is included with the other 65 schools, the Huskies rank second in the nation in average salary for women’s coaches.

Plonsky wasn’t happy to hear Texas was leading the salary discrepancy list, but said she’s confident her department is among the best in the country at competitively compensating her women’s team coaches.

The statistics support her statement and also shed positive light on Vanderbilt – No. 2 on the list. The private school has fewer than 400 student-athletes compared to Texas’ 746 but still ranks in the top 10 of average women’s head coach salary.   

Baylor University ranks third in the largest difference between men’s and women’s team head coaching salaries but ranks first among all Power Five schools in average salary for women’s team coaches at $339,000. 

The University of Kansas and University of Alabama were the other two schools that paid men’s team coaches more than $1 million more on average than women’s team coaches. Alabama ranks a respectable 17th in women’s head coach’s salaries but Kansas ranks 31st – averaging just over $180,000 per year. 

“Kansas Athletics is aware of the salary levels of our coaches,” Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director, said in an email.  “Our goal is to employ highly qualified, highly successful head coaches for men’s and women’s sports, and compensate them commensurately.”

The market for coaches in men’s sports is more competitive, and that’s partly because they bring in more revenue for the school, Lopiano admitted. Much of this revenue stems from television exposure.

ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated just 1.4 percent of its airtime to women’s sports in 2009 compared to 2.1 percent in 2004, according to a study conducted by professors Michael Messner of the University of Southern California and Cheryl Cooky of Purdue University.

“Somehow there’s a different marketplace at play,” Lopiano said. “If I was hiring somebody to be the head basketball coach for women, and I hired John Calipari for men, why am I not hiring John Calipari for women? That’s why it’s fishy.

“Predominately male athletic directors continue to perpetuate the belief that women aren’t as good as men at coaching. There are no women coaching men’s teams, and half of your coaches for women’s teams are men.”

Both real numbers are higher, but Lopiano’s estimates are close. Somewhere between 2 and 3.5 percent of men’s teams are coached by women, while 57 percent of women’s teams are coached by men, according to a study by two Brooklyn College professors who looked at 1,100 NCAA schools.

Ninety percent of women’s teams were led by women when Title IX was enacted in 1972 – 47 percentage points higher than today’s number.

Somewhere in time, the market for college coaches decided those who lead women’s sports should be paid less than those who lead men’s sports. Revenue numbers provide a reason, but the discrepancy is ingrained in the nature of college athletics and no one has the solution for change.

“We look at our peers and see what they’re paying them,” Plonsky said.

Reach reporter Joe Mussatto at [email protected] or 202-408-1493.

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College coaching: Where women still make pennies on the dollar