The Perceived Role of Senior Women Administrators in NCAA Division I Institutions

Abstract

The Senior Woman Administrator (SWA), originally named the Primary Woman Administrator (PWA), is a role designed to return to women a voice in the operations of intercollegiate athletic departments that was lost as a result of the takeover of the AIAW by the NCAA. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the SWA as it exists today and as it could become in the future. The Senior Woman Administrator Survey was developed and administered to all NCAA Division I SWAs. Senior Woman Administrators overwhelmingly disagreed with the statement suggesting they have been given responsibilities that are appropriate for their job. Further, in order for SWAs to have authority that is more than advisory in nature, they must have final decision making authority in budget and personnel. Finally, SWAs indicated that their primary functions were advocating for women’s athletics, gender equity, and serving as a role model.

Introduction

Women’s intercollegiate athletics was built on the foundation of physical education programs for female students. Athletics for women was governed and administered by female physical education teachers and coaches. In the beginning, women’s athletics programs were operated with an educational philosophy emphasizing participation over competition. Demand began to rise for more competitive women’s athletics and a governing agency to ensure appropriate administration. This demand resulted in the creation of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). The AIAW began forming in the late 1960s, became fully functional in 1971, and was in control of women’s athletics by the summer of 1972 (Hult, 1994; Hult in Hult & Trekell, 1991).

The educational focus of the AIAW is well documented. The Association’s leadership was intent on maintaining a “student-centered, education-oriented model” (Hult in Hult & Trekell, 1991). The first significant attack on this unique model of intercollegiate athletics came with the Kellmeyer case in 1973. This class action lawsuit was filed by a group of tennis players and their coaches challenging the AIAW’s ban on offering athletic scholarships. The leadership within the AIAW reluctantly admitted defeat and permitted member institutions to provide athletic scholarships to female student-athletes. The Kellmeyer case is recognized as one of the Association’s first steps in moving away from its original focus on education and moving toward the more commercialized model of intercollegiate athletics used by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) (Hult in Hult & Trekell, 1991; Wu, 1999, 2000).

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which passed in 1972 and banned discrimination at educational institutions that received federal funds, led to reforms that made athletic opportunities for male and female students more equitable. This new legislation brought explosive growth in participation by female athletes (Hult, 1994). Title IX introduced a new standard in that opportunities for female athletes were now being compared to opportunities for male athletes in terms of the quantity and quality of the opportunities. Women sought equitable participation opportunities as well as equitable support in scholarships, benefits, and services. As opportunities within women’s sports continued to increase, the governing body for men’s athletics, the NCAA, saw both an opportunity and a threat. An opportunity in that the NCAA anticipated that, with the implementation of Title IX, women’s athletics was going to be significantly funded, and thus, discussion began within the NCAA to include women within the organization (Hult in Hult & Trekell, 2001). A threat in that the NCAA was concerned that the resources needed to support women’s programs would be redirected from the men’s programs. In an attempt to manage both situations, the NCAA made plans to offer championships for women and to eventually take over the AIAW. In 1981, women’s basketball championships were offered for women by the AIAW, the NAIA, and the NCAA (Trekell & Hult, 1991). The NCAA takeover of the AIAW in 1982 eventually resulted in the consolidation of men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletic programs, which left many female administrators and coaches of women’s programs without jobs or in secondary positions (Hult, 1994). The most devastating aspect of the demise of the AIAW was that within the AIAW, women controlled 90 percent of the programs. Within the NCAA membership, women were part of an organization where 95 percent of the voting representatives were male and knew little if anything about the philosophies of the AIAW (Grant, 1989). According to Uhlir (1987) “by 1979-1980, over 80 percent of all collegiate athletic administrations were merged, and 90 percent of the merged administrations had men at the helm. Frequently, the woman displaced was more qualified—with more experience, a higher degree, academic rank, and tenure.” With the loss of jobs or the relegation to secondary positions, women lost decision-making opportunities at the campus level as well as representation at national conventions, and these opportunities have never been recovered (Acosta & Carpenter, 2002).

The role of Senior Woman Administrator (SWA), initially called the Primary Woman Administrator (PWA), was designed to return to women the administrative opportunities they had lost and to ensure that women had a voice in the administration of intercollegiate athletic programs (Hult, 1994; National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2002). Today, considerable effort is still aimed at understanding the role of SWA for those who are already in, or who aspire to fill, senior administrative roles in athletic programs because of the changes that have occurred since the AIAW-NCAA consolidation in 1982 (Copeland, 2005; Hosick, 2005). In order for SWAs to be effective administrators, their role must be clearly understood, and they must have adequate levels of influence on administrative strategies and courses of action within athletic departments not just on issues related to gender equity and women’s sports (Gill-Fisher, 1998; National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1994; Watson, 1994). When an SWA is excluded from discussions beyond gender equity, compliance, or academic advising, the role of the SWA is limited and the entire athletics department is deprived of the insight this person can provide to enhance the experiences of all.

Until the role of the SWA is clearly understood, both the SWA and her constituents will continue to be frustrated with the results of her leadership. Unless action is taken to remedy less than desirable situations, the results will have little impact (Watson, 1994). It is hoped that athletic administrators will utilize this study in examining the role of the SWA on their campuses and assist this person in contributing more fully to the overall administration of the athletic program, thus making the SWA a viable and integral member of the athletic department and campus leadership.

The purpose of this study is to examine the role of the Senior Woman Administrator as it currently exists and as it could become in the future in order to make recommendations for a more clearly understood and utilized role. In order to accomplish this, answers to the following research questions were sought: (1) Do SWAs perceive that they are being given appropriate responsibilities for their role? (2) Do SWAs perceive that they have decision-making power in budgeting? and (3) What is the SWA’s role in the advancement of women in athletics?

Method

Participants and Procedure

All NCAA Division I Senior Woman Administrators (SWA) were surveyed. Each member institution within the NCAA Division I is required to list a Senior Woman Administrator on the NCAA Institutional Representatives Form that is completed annually by the athletic department (D. Oberhelman, personal communication, July 2002). In addition to the SWA, each institution’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer), AD (Athletics Director), FAR (Faculty Athletic Representative), and Compliance Coordinator is listed on this form (D. Oberhelman, personal communication, July 2002). SWA addresses were obtained from The National Directory of College Athletics, an official publication of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, 2002). Envelopes were addressed generically to the Senior Woman Administrator. Each NCAA Division I institution should have identified an SWA on their NCAA Institutional Representatives Form and, therefore, has already designated someone to receive mail addressed in this manner (D. Oberhelman, personal communication, July 2002). Survey packets were sent to all SWAs in NCAA Division I and included a letter of introduction, the coded Senior Woman Administrator Survey, and a postage-paid, return envelope. Surveys were coded only for the purpose of tracking responses to prevent reminder postcards from being sent to those who had already returned surveys. For those who had not returned surveys, a follow-up postcard was sent 18 days after the survey packets were sent.

Materials

The data collection instrument used in this study was the “Senior Woman Administrator Survey” developed through literature review, a related survey conducted by the NCAA, and interview responses gathered from three SWAs in NCAA Division I institutions in the southeast. In 1994, the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics used a similar survey. Selected items from the NCAA Survey were used with permission. The Senior Woman Administrator Survey included items designed to assess the perceptions of the SWA and her role in the athletic department.

In developing the Senior Woman Administrator Survey, interview responses were gathered from three SWAs at NCAA Division I institutions. Interview items were divided into the following sections: Demographics, Perceived Leadership Style, Relationships within Athletic Department, and Conclusion. The interview questions were open-ended in nature and the approved protocol allowed for probing questions as appropriate. Interview responses were transcribed. Responses found to be consistent among subjects or very unique in nature were then used to formulate survey items.

The Senior Woman Administrator Survey consists of three parts: Part I: Demographic Profile, Part II: Position/Institutional Profile, and Part III: SWA Perceptions. Part I: Demographic Profile included questions regarding sex, race, education level, and professional experience. Part II: Position/Institutional Profile included questions designed to describe the SWA’s role at the institution as well as provide information about the institution. Part III: SWA Perceptions was designed to assess the SWA’s perceptions of her role within the athletic department including the areas of appropriate responsibilities, authority, decision-making, leadership, value to the athletic department, and job satisfaction.

Face validity of the instrument was evaluated by a panel of experts consisting of one NCAA Division I SWA, one NCAA Division I Compliance Coordinator, and one Associate Professor of Coaching and Sport Administration. After the face validity test, minor adjustments were made to the survey. Internal consistency was determined by administering the survey to 28 NCAA Division II SWAs in the southeast. Chronbach’s alpha was used to assess internal consistency and eliminate any items with low item-total correlation. Using Chronbach’s alpha, the internal consistency was determined to be .96. No items were eliminated from the survey.

Following the initial mailing to all NCAA Division I institutions and an 18 day follow-up postcard, 150 (46%) usable surveys were returned. An analysis of the data was conducted as follows: (a) Demographic Profile Information responses and Position/Institutional Profile responses were analyzed through the use of descriptive statistics with frequencies and percentages of responses tabulated for each item and each alternative within each item, (b) Senior Woman Administrator Perception responses were analyzed through the use of inferential statistics with frequencies and percentages for responses in each category being compared to determine if observed differences were statistically significant at the p < .05 level, and (c) Responses regarding the perceived role of the SWA within the athletic department including the areas of appropriate responsibilities, authority, decision-making, leadership, value to the athletic department and job satisfaction were analyzed through the use of descriptive statistics with frequencies and percentages of responses tabulated for each item and each alternative within each item. Responses were indicated on a Likert-type scale with the following scores: 1: Strongly Disagree, 2: Disagree, 3: Somewhat Disagree, 4: Somewhat Agree, 5: Agree, and 6: Strongly Agree.

Results and Discussion

Appropriate Responsibilities

In response to the statement, “I have been given responsibilities that are not appropriate for my job,” 73.9% disagreed at some level with this statement. Table 1 shows the responses to this item.
SWAs overwhelmingly disagreed with the statement suggesting that they have been given responsibilities that are appropriate for their role. In the development of the Senior Woman Administrator Survey, interviews were conducted to assist in survey construction. One interviewee suggested that “whenever it was time to plan a party, I was asked to plan it.” Overall, the responses to this item indicate that progress has been made in accepting the SWA into the fraternity of athletic administration. It is also important to note that responses were received primarily from SWAs at Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division IA) institutions. These are the premiere institutions in the country, and they may have been the most diligent in developing the role of the SWA at their institutions.

Budget Decisions

In response to the statement, “I have final decision-making authority on budgetary decisions,” 61.0% of SWAs disagreed at some level with this statement. Table 2 shows the responses to this item.

In order for the SWA to have authority that is more than advisory in nature, she must have final, decision-making authority in the area of budgetary decisions. This finding is consistent with Claussen and Lehr (2002) who determined that, “SWAs possess only advisory authority for most functions analyzed.” For example, if the coach of a sport reports to the SWA and the SWA has denied a request for money to be allocated in a particular way, the coach should not be able to approach another athletic administrator and be granted his or her request. Furthermore, the SWA should have access to the paperwork that is submitted confirming that the money requested was spent as permission was given. For example, if a coach is told that he or she is not permitted to take the team to a movie on a road trip, the SWA should have access to the voucher submitted by the coach upon their return to confirm that the coach did not take the team to a movie. Unless the SWA is given the authority to grant and deny permission for spending coupled with the access to accountability methods, greater opportunity exists for her authority to be subverted.

Advancement of Women in Athletics

SWAs indicated that, for the most part, their primary functions should include functioning as an advocate for women’s athletics (n=128), gender equity (n=116), and serving as a role model (n=109), Table 3.

It is interesting to note that these primary functions do not necessarily cross over into the overall administrative strategies of athletic departments. Not minimizing the importance of the advocacy functions indicated, but it is the crossover into the overall scheme that women are looking for in the position of the SWA, “a female voice at the table, many times the only female voice,…providing a diverse, different view—a different perspective” (Stallman cited in Copeland, 2005). Claussen and Lehr (2002) found that SWAs had little decision making authority in marketing, development, promotions, and sponsorships, thus, limiting the scope of their involvement. As reported by McKindra (2009), a recent study conducted by the NCAA indicates an 8.2 percent increase the number of women serving in administrative positions. The increases have come in the positions of business manager, graduate assistant, academic advisor, and administrative assistant (McKindra, 2009). While the recent increases in women administrators seems to provide cause for celebration, a close look at these positions reveals advances in positions that do not cross over into the overall administration of the athletic department. Further, serving as an advocate for women is not enough, and when an SWA’s role is limited to advocacy then that individual’s impact on the overall administration of athletics programs is reduced (Copeland, 2005). If SWAs see their role as primarily dealing with women and their issues, then it will be difficult to persuade others that they need access to the other operations of the athletic department (Gill-Fisher, 1998).

Conclusions

The position of Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) was designed to include women in the administration of intercollegiate athletics, an opportunity that was lost for many as a result of the AIAW-NCAA consolidation (Hult, 1994; National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2002a). Overall, SWAs seem to be satisfied with the contributions they are making to their respective athletic departments, yet there still exists today some ambiguity regarding the role and function of SWAs. Those who are already in, or who aspire to fill, senior administrative roles in athletic programs may have a clear understanding of the role and function of the SWA as it is intended, but those working with the SWA, including coaches, athletic administrators, and university administrators are often unclear as to the role and function of the SWA.

In order for SWAs to be effective administrators, their role must be clearly understood. In addition, they must have adequate levels of influence on administrative strategies and courses of action within athletic departments, not just on issues related to women’s athletics (Gill-Fisher, 1998; National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1994; Watson, 1994). When SWAs are given authority in particular areas, i.e., budget issues, they need to be given access to the tools for accountability. Further study should examine whether or not the experience gained while serving in the role of SWA is adequate to advance the careers of these athletic administrators into positions of higher rank or authority or if the persons who fill the role of SWA are seen only as advocates for women’s athletics.

In order to gain a more accurate picture of the role of the SWA as it exists and as it could become at NCAA Division I institutions, continued research needs to be conducted on the perceptions of the SWA by members of the athletic department and other campus administrators regarding the role of the SWA on their campuses. Further, the women who fill the role of SWA need to consistently seek opportunities for involvement in all facets of the athletic department, not just issues related to female student-athletes, and in other aspects of campus leadership. As the NCAA and the member institutions seek to more clearly understand and utilize the role of the SWA at all divisions, those institutions which have effectively integrated the role of the SWA into the campus leadership should make recommendations for best practices in these areas.

Tables

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