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Passing the Netlace: A Legacy of Women’s Leadership

Who knew that a nearly twenty-year-old piece of basketball net would find itself in the possession of not one, but two, NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship coaches? Carolyn Peck knew. Moreover, she’s expecting that piece of 1999 NCAA Basketball Championship net to be returned to her shortly, as promised by the NCAA’s 2017 Championship Coach, Dawn Staley.

For the last five seasons, Staley coached the Gamecocks to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The 2014-2015 run saw South Carolina get its closest to the title by making it to the Final Four; however, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame edged out the semifinal game by one point and crushed any championship dreams for the Gamecocks.

Yet, ever since Peck gave Staley a segment of her 1999 Championship net a few years ago, Staley has been carrying the net in her wallet as a reminder. “I’ve had it in my wallet for years,” recalled Staley. “[Carolyn] said, ‘When you win your national championship, just return it.”

As head coach, Peck, and the Purdue Boilermakers, blew out the Duke Blue Devils 62-45 on March 28, 1999 to win the school’s first ever NCAA title in any sport. Eighteen years later, on April 2, 2017, Staley, with Peck’s net in her wallet, accomplished a similar feat.

Staley led the South Carolina Gamecocks to defeat Mississippi State 67-55 in the finals of the 2017 NCAA tournament—winning the university’s first-ever national title in women’s basketball.

“I’m going to have to pass a piece of my net on to somebody else so they can share and hopefully accomplish something as big as this,” said Staley in an interview with SBNation. Staley also stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “I do have to give a big shout out to Carolyn Peck, and I will return her net, thankfully.”

The two coaches have more in common than winning NCAA Championships; Peck and Staley have also made history by becoming the first and second African-American coaches, respectively, to win an NCAA Championship title in Division I women’s basketball.

“Now that there’s a one and a two, there’ll be a three. And the excitement that gives me is thrilling,” said Peck.

Staley’s success came days before the 2016 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport was published on April 6, 2017. Published by WSF Board member and director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES), Richard Lapchick, the recent study found that:

“In 2015-2016, African-Americans held 7.4 percent, 4.5 percent, and 4.5 percent of the women’s head coaching positions in Division I, II, and III, respectively. That was a very slight increase for African-American head coaches on women’s teams in all three Divisions.”

Lapchick advocates for the Eddie Robinson and Judy Sweet rules in order to better encourage gender and racial equality within collegiate athletic departments.

The Eddie Robinson rule calls for a qualified racial and ethnic minority to be interviewed in the final pools for any given open coaching or athletic administrative position. Likewise, the Judy Sweet rule requires a diverse pool of candidates, particularly including women and people of color, to be considered for administrative opportunities at the NCAA headquarters and in Division I college athletic departments.

“I was very happy and inspired to witness Dawn Staley become the second African-American women’s basketball head coach to win an NCAA championship. I believe this victory will be a catalyst to help improve the opportunities for people of color as head coaches in college basketball and sports as a whole,” said Lapchick. .

Adding to the strong reach in Lapchick’s report card, in 2016, the Women’s Sports Foundation released, Beyond X’s and O’s: Gender Bias and Coaches of Women’s College Sports. The research confirms gender bias in the coaching workplace of women’s college sports, and that while many female coaches experience gender bias, few of their male counterparts perceive it. Through the 2016 Racial and Gender Report Card and Beyond X’s and O’s we see a strong need to promote gender and racial equality within athletic departments and throughout university settings.

Beyond X’s and O’s offers thirteen different policy recommendations that fall into various categories such as, compensation, hiring and promotion practices, fair and non-discriminatory treatment, Title IX gender and equity requirements, sexual orientation and gender identity issues, involvement in the workplace and governance.

To read more of the Foundation’s research, click here >>