On homophobia and recruiting is loaded:
On every top recruit’s college visit, there comes the moment of the final pitch, when the head-spinning hoopla finally gives way to the business of basketball, when the high school girl steps away from the rah-rah of all the games and the ego-stroking of all the VIP intros to sit down with the head coach. During one teen’s big moment, a heart-to-heart with Iowa State’s Bill Fennelly, the decorated coach of 23 years sang an insistent refrain. “He kept drilling that ‘this would be a family,'” says the player, who asked not to be named. “‘You should come here,’ he said, ‘because we’re family-oriented.'”
To the recruit, those seemingly comforting words cloaked a deeper meaning. Two of the four schools she was considering were purported to employ lesbians on their staffs. Her stop in Ames, in fact, was on the heels of a trip to one of those allegedly “gay programs.” There, coaches avoided discussing anyone’s off-court lives. Iowa State, in contrast, pushed the personal hard. “They threw it out constantly,” says the player, who became a Cyclone. “‘Iowa has morals, and people who live here have values, wholesome values.'” The implication, to her and to another former Cyclone who confirmed her account, was that at other schools, “there’s something going on you don’t know.”
The messaging continued after she joined the Iowa State squad and started to help recruit younger players. Coaches told all the Cyclones to emphasize their “environment” to any visiting recruits: married head coach, straight assistants, kids running underfoot. “Tell them we’re family- oriented,” the player recalls. “According to the coaches, it needed to be said.”
Negative recruiting is even whispered in answer to the game’s toughest riddle: Why don’t the sport’s two top programs, Tennessee and UConn, play each other anymore?
Auriemma says he still doesn’t know why Pat Summitt, Tennessee’s legendary coach, nixed their annual showdown in 2007. But he’s heard the rumor that has circulated since: UConn used antigay recruiting tactics against the Lady Vol program. “If someone is saying that’s the reason,” Auriemma says, “they’re more out of their minds than I think they are.” Summitt declined to be interviewed for this story.
Oddly, what forced the turnover was Title IX and lots of money. Title IX, the law that bound any educational institution receiving federal funds to offer equal athletic opportunities for women, pushed big-conference schools to add programs and scholarship money. Then the NCAA lured women’s teams away from the AIAW and turned on the cash faucet. Suddenly, a women’s hoops coach who could fill an arena and take a team deep into the NCAA Tourney could increase an athletic department’s visibility, which meant those jobs gained prestige and started to pay more. Not surprisingly, male coaches noticed and moved in.
And the theory about the decline about women in coaching due to lack of mentoring is plausible.
This piece is an excellent start, but only the tip of the iceberg.