Penn State and Rutgers are among the universities that have recently hired female athletic directors to “reinvigorate” their programs. “Reinvigorate” is the word Frank Fitzpatrick uses in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article titled “Female Athletic Directors Slowly Making Inroads At Big Colleges.” Given the Sandusky scandal at Penn State that broke in 2011 and the fact that at Rutgers the men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, was fired for abusing his players in 2013, Fitzpatrick might almost have used “salvage” instead.
In a sense, the hiring of female A.D.’s at those universities and the presence of women in the director’s chair at a few others - including the University of Pennsylvania, Eastern Michigan, and North Carolina State - constitute progress, though, according to Fitzpatrick, only in a sense.
"A lot of times people hire people as a reaction to the previous person, no matter if it’s a male or a female. ... Really, what matters is how you do when you get the job."Mollie Marcoux, Princeton athletic director
"If you look at the numbers going way back, you’ll see that there were a number of women athletic directors prior to Title IX, and most schools had separate women’s athletic departments, and had women heading those," Fitzpatrick said. "And then when Title IX came about, most of those were combined -- men’s and women’s programs -- and it was the women who lost their jobs."
Though Fitzpatrick found that 20 percent of schools at all levels have female athletic directors, only 10 percent of Division I schools do. And among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, there are just seven female A.D.’s. One reason for that imbalance is the preeminence of that sport.
"Football is the 500-pound gorilla in college sports," Fitzpatrick said. "I mean, it’s the sport that funds most of the other sports. So, I think schools are very reluctant to put someone in the position of running their department who doesn't have at least a little bit of experience in that regard."
Among the Div. I schools that have not allowed the absence of a football resume to deter them from hiring a female athletic director is Princeton, where Mollie Marcoux has the job.
"Our football coach here is fantastic, and he can handle the X’s and O’s," she said. "And we can work on the larger things, me getting the resources that he needs to get our program to the highest possible level."
Just a year ago, Marcoux was hired at Princeton, where there hadn't even been a departmental scandal. But Marcoux understands how those hires elsewhere happened.
[sidebar title="Female Coaches: The Next Title IX Battleground?" width="630" align="right"] UMass-Amherst lecturer Kristine Newhall speaks on how the number of female coaches post-Title IX has dropped.[/sidebar]
"A lot of times people hire people as a reaction to the previous person, no matter if it’s a male or a female," she said. "It’s always an evolution of a position. Really, what matters is how you do when you get the job and take the situation and build from where you start."
Marcoux was an outstanding ice hockey and soccer player during her undergraduate years at Princeton. She moved down the road to the Lawrenceville School as an assistant athletic director, and then acquired considerable managerial experience as senior vice president and Executive Director of Chelsea Piers Connecticut.
As Fitzpatrick sees it, her success and the success of other women in similar positions could create in college presidents elsewhere the courage and imagination they presently lack.
"There are schools, there are school presidents who would love to hire a woman athletic director, believe me," Fitzpatrick said. "But they’re looking at their alumni, and their big donors, and people who are a little more wary, and a little more skeptical. And so progress has been a little slower. But if there’s success at Penn State, if there’s success at Rutgers, if these women hired to reinvigorate the programs do so, ... I think we may finally see that glass ceiling smashed."
Everywhere it happens, male assistant athletic directors, and perhaps some upwardly mobile female assistant athletic directors as well, gather with brooms to sweep up the shards.
This segment aired on April 25, 2015.