Men: in the minority, still on the defensive

Women's game has its conspiracy theories

March 26, 2002|By Melissa Isaacson | Melissa Isaacson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MILWAUKEE - The issue won't go away, but maybe it's a good thing it doesn't. Aside from the pure entertainment value of it all, there may be actual lessons to be gleaned from the incessant sparring between male and female coaches in women's college basketball.

After 17 years at Connecticut, Geno Auriemma still is answering the questions, still defending himself, still lashing out in a way only he can at the inequities, perceived inequities and petty annoyances of being white, middle-aged, male and a minority.

And so it was again last weekend that the coach of very possibly the greatest women's team ever assembled and his counterpart at Penn State, Rene Portland, were at it again.

At women's tournament time in recent years, the hot topic has been the suspicion of several male coaches that an all-female NCAA selection committee had stacked certain brackets with predominantly male-coached teams to guarantee the men would not dominate the national stage of the Final Four.

The backlash occurred while dismissing such claims, when female coaches such as Portland criticized their male colleagues for implying a gender bias. And while we"re on the topic of sex bias, so the back-biting continued, why are men taking up high-profile jobs coaching women's teams when women have zero chance of getting a job coaching a men's team?

That's where things picked up as Portland was asked if all else were equal between a male and female job applicant, should a woman be hired to coach a women's team?

"If the [men's coaching] position at Penn State opened right now." said Portland, "could I, should I, would I be considered is the answer to your question."

And the answer would be ...

"No, I would not be considered for the position." she said.

At last count, men have only about 20 percent of the Division I women's head coaching jobs. That many of them are successful, including Auriemma, who took a program that had one winning season in its 11-year history before his arrival, is the sticking point.

"Maybe guys are right when they say they"re asked to get a program to a certain point, then are cast aside like used garbage bags." DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno says.

It's an issue that clearly rankles the national coach of the year, whose team won NCAA titles in "95 and 2000 and is in line for its third.

"I don't remember the last guy who got a really big-time job in women's basketball, so I don't know what they"re talking about." Auriemma says of the women coaches. 'The only jobs the men get are places where it's hard to win."

For Auriemma, who began his career coaching a freshman high school girls team, coaching women was a conscious decision and he says he never has thought of using the job to get a men's position, a common misconception regarding male coaches.

To deny women his thoughts on life and basketball, not necessarily in that order, would be a big mistake.

"I don't think we"re demanding enough of our kids." he says. 'That's why there's not enough good [women's] teams and the game probably hasn't grown as much as it's going to grow ...

"Anybody who has sons and daughters at home, and I do, it's a natural tendency to do that. You go out with your son in the back yard, smack him around a little bit, tackle him, push his face in the dirt, say, "Suck it up, be a man." You go out with your daughter, a ground ball hits her in the chin, you take her to Friendly's, give her some ice cream, patch her up, kiss her, buy her a present and hope her mother won't get mad at you. The more we get away from that, the better."

He's right, of course. While few kids benefit emotionally from the Bob Knight School of coaching, girls long have suffered from lower expectations.

Melissa Isaacson is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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