Felisha Legette-Jack and SU athletic director John Wildhack hold up a jersey with Felisha's name on it in the Melo Center on March 28th, 2022.
SU athletic director John Wildhack and Felisha Legette-Jack hold up a jersey with the new head coach's name.

For about an hour on March 28, the gap between men’s and women’s college coaches didn’t seem to exist when Syracuse University introduced Felisha Legette-Jack as the school’s new women’s basketball coach.

In the Melo Center gym, decorated with orange and blue balloons, the former SU player and Buffalo head coach took the podium as the school’s first female women’s basketball coach in two decades.

In the back of the gym, away from the staff and reporters gathered for the festive introduction, sat longtime SU men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim, affording his new counterpart the spotlight she deserved.

But the gap between Legette-Jack and Boeheim goes well beyond the 50 feet of basketball hardwood between them that day.

A half-century since Title IX went into effect mandating equity in sports, the representation of women in coaching and pay differences between female and male coaches remain unbalanced. According to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, women held 67% of Power 5 women’s basketball head coaching jobs in 2020-21. You don’t have to look at data to know every Power 5 men’s basketball head coaching job is filled by a man.

“I think it’s imperative that we are if not getting the job we should be at least interviewed for the opportunity when it comes to women coaching women,” Legette-Jack said. “It’s going to take some more time, but I think that the curve is trending upward.”

The EADA’s data supports Legette-Jack’s instincts. Of Syracuse’s 11 women’s sports programs, six teams – basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer and softball – are now coached by women. This compares to two female coaches when the Orange joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013.

That rate at Syracuse can improve, too. As of June 2022, SU’s volleyball team does not have a head coach after Leonid Yelin retired at the end of last season.

SU Athletics Director John Wildhack, who hired Legette-Jack, Kayla Treanor as the school’s women’s lacrosse coach and Britni Smith as Syracuse’s ice hockey coach this past year, said he’s always pursuing the right person for the job.

“But I do think it’s important when you identify quality women head coach candidates, they need that opportunity, and they deserve that opportunity,” Wildhack said.

The coaching hires at SU account for half of the additions since 2013 in ACC women’s sports, where male coaches still outnumbered female coaches 78 to 69 in the 2020-21 school year.

Of the 15 Atlantic Coast Conference schools, including Notre Dame, men coached 53% of all women’s teams in the 2020-21 season. And while providing opportunities for women to lead has improved, the resources they’re given to work with have not.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, now works with Champion Women, which advocates for girls and women in sports, specifically at levels impacted by Title IX. Champion Women analyzed Division I budget inequalities before sharing its findings with the United States Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights.

The organization found that ACC schools spent $45 million more on scholarships for male than female athletes in 2020 and $18.3 million more on recruiting for men’s sports. On average, schools in the conference spent $3 million more on male scholarships and $1.2 million more on recruiting for men’s sports. Syracuse University fell below average in scholarship spending ($1,833,955) and the recruiting gap ($819,162).

Champion Women also grades each NCAA institution on how compliant the school is with Title IX. The organization divides the pass or fail grades by scholarships, participation and benefits before labeling a final grade.

April 22, 2022, Boston, MA: Syracuse Head Coach Kayla Treanor pleads her case to the officials at halftime in a game at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on Friday, April 22, 2022. (Photo by Griffin Quinn)

Champion Women gave SU an F, along with 13 of the other 15 ACC schools. Only Miami passed in one category.

“Title IX is not hard. This is not rocket science,” Hogshead-Makar said in a 2022 interview with PBS News Hour. “I’ve never talked to a female athlete that was not acutely aware of how they were getting second-class treatment as compared to some of the other male athletes. There’s no defense to giving men more.”

Legette-Jack, who played at Syracuse from 1984-89, recalled watching her college coach Barbara Jacobs work multiple roles within the women’s basketball program along with her head coaching responsibilities.

Legette-Jack said there wasn’t a lot of help for her former coach, not nearly as much as Legette-Jack herself receives today. And through 50 years of women in sports at Syracuse University, the culture surrounding women in positions of power has changed.

The day after Legette-Jack’s introduction to SU, Treanor opened her postgame press conference with congratulations for the newest Orange coach. Treanor, who played lacrosse at Syracuse from 2013-16 for her predecessor and current SU men’s lacrosse coach Gary Gait, noted that most of her high school and college coaches were men.

New SU womens' basketball head coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, walks into the Melo Center as head coach for the first time on March 28th 2022.

“It shows, I think, the importance of female leaders for these young women that are here at Syracuse,” Treanor said about the Legette-Jack hire. “It’s really important to see women in positions of power.”

The support for empowering female college athletes has changed as well, especially in a college landscape where athletes can earn money on their name, image and likeness.

According to Opendorse, an NIL branding company, four of the five most valuable NIL athletes in the 2022 men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament were women. Opendorse found UCONN’s Paige Bueckers and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, who starred in commercials for StockX and Overtime, more valuable than Duke men’s basketball star Paolo Banchero.

While the athletes are worth more to companies and promoters, the NCAA values the men’s tournament more than the women’s. The NCAA spent $13.5 million more on the men’s tournament than on the women’s in 2019.

The financial gap affects the coaches, too. Boeheim, sitting in the back of the gym, collected $2.84 million last year in Syracuse’s first losing season since 1976. Legette-Jack, who won Buffalo’s conference championship in 2022, earned just under $350,000.

Hiring more women like Legette-Jack to lead athletic programs, starting with women coaching women, is how schools can continue creating a more level playing field.

“We’ve evolved through the year 50 of women in sports,” Legette-Jack said. “What people are realizing is that we all are pretty good if given the opportunity.”