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Column: For Natalie Rogers, finding her seat at the table started with action

How AU’s senior women’s administrator helps fight the lack of female representation in sports

Once money gets involved, everybody wants to get involved. This philosophy can often be seen in women’s sports, and in particular, women’s basketball. 

In 1893, the first women’s college basketball game was played at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The game was 30 minutes long — sophomores versus freshmen; and instead of basketballs, it was soccer balls and peach baskets. The final score was five to four, and men were not permitted in the gym.

The women who played that day probably could have never imagined what today’s game has turned into — 351 Division I programs, playing on average 27 games each per season that consist of four 10-minute quarters, with each team averaging 60.937 points each game. And as of this past year, when championships are made and nets are cut down, women’s teams finally participate in March Madness.

Not only has the entire sport changed from that first game at Smith College, but so did the people allowed in the gym. Men are now allowed, as they should be; however, most head coaches of women’s teams are now men. Only 13.6 percent of college basketball coaches are women, and 86.4 percent are men. I wondered why this happens so often, so I brought this question to AU’s Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women’s Administrator (SWA) Natalie Rogers.

Rogers was a Division I college athlete herself, and an exceptional one to say the least. Rogers grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she began playing tennis in elementary school. She then went on to attend University of Michigan and play on the school’s Division I varsity tennis team, where her head coach was a woman.

“For me, it was never odd to have a women’s coach,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t think about it too much. She was my coach and that was that.”

Rogers was then inspired to become a coach herself, beginning her career at Bryn Mawr College where she was the tennis and badminton coach, as well as a professor of physical education. After Bryn Mawr, Rogers’ next move was the University of Chicago where she coached both men’s and women’s tennis. After coaching and educating for several years, Rogers switched gears and began working for the NCAA’s enforcement division, which works to ensure integrity and fair play among member schools. The behind the scenes of college sports is an interesting scene which is not explored by many. Rogers, however, had a front row seat.

“That’s really when I could really see the difference. Prior to Title IX being enacted, the majority of female teams were coached by women. Since Title IX and the funding that came with it, more men applied for head coach positions in women's sports,” Rogers said.

It is evident that the influx of male coaches may cause a loss of opportunities for female coaches. In women’s basketball specifically, there are more male head coaches than female; all the while, there are zero female head coaches in men’s basketball. While there are strides being taken when it comes to women fulfilling leadership positions in sports, there remains a massive amount of room for improvement. For instance, Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke men’s basketball earned roughly $9.7 million a year, while Dawn Staley, head coach of South Carolina’s women’s team is granted $2.9 million but with outside compensation. Both Hall of Famers are known as the most influential and recognizable figures in college basketball. The pay, however, fails to reflect that.

“I think there is a lot that goes into reaching gender equality in coaching. But for starters, more action has to take place and follow the words that are spoken,” Rogers said.

After 10 years working for the NCAA, Rogers moved to D.C. and began working at Howard University in compliance. She then took about seven years off from athletics. But her calling never seemed to fade away; she picked up where she left off, but at AU in 2020.

In a leadership position of her own, Rogers works towards improving the female athlete experience. 

“As a department, we want to make the student athlete experience the best that it can be for all our students, but in particular our female student-athletes, due to some of the unique challenges they may encounter such as body image or body shaming. We just have to have the right people in place and follow through with what is promised,” said Rogers.

Roger’s final remark was not one to reckon with.

“Title IX has been instrumental in moving the needle and giving more young women the opportunity to compete in high school and college; however there is much more work to be done. Title IX celebrated its 50 year anniversary in June 2022, and great strides have been made. However, inequities still exist from scholarships to coaches’ salaries,” Rogers said.. “More action has to take place that follows the words that are spoken of those in positions of power. We need more allies and more women' s voices on executive teams who will continue pushing that needle further.” 

Since Title IX, the number of women participating in college athletices has increased from 15,000 to more than 200,000. However, since women’s sports now have economic value, men are also filling positions. In 1972, before Title IX, more than 90 percent of women’s college women’s coaches were female. By 1978, after the law was passed and teams were required to follow the legislation, the number dropped to 58.2 percent. Yes, Title IX has given significantly more opportunities for women, but it has also caused them to lose a sense of ownership with their sport in terms of who became their coaches and administration.

There is a lot of work left to do, and that might just start with increasing female head coaches in female sports. In other words, give women more seats at their own table.

Laura Graytok is a graduate student in the School of Communication and a Sports Columnist for The Eagle. This article was edited by Liah Argiropoulos, Delaney Hoke and Nina Heller. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis, Sophia Rocha, Natasha LaChac

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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