Challenging the Salary Gap

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.9, October 2006,

A growing number of Title IX lawsuits in recent years have tackled inequities between high school baseball and softball fields, helping to bring softball facilities up to par. But how is the salary equity struggle going for softball coaches? If assessments by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) are an indication, there is still a ways to go.

The KHSAA has assessed its member schools for Title IX compliance every four years since 1999. According to Larry Boucher, KHSAA Assistant Commissioner, early reviews revealed large pay gaps between softball coaches and baseball coaches. “Unfortunately, we regularly saw a softball coach earning $2,000 while the baseball coach at the same school earned $5,000,” Boucher says.

The KHSAA began urging schools to correct the inequity, even threatening to shorten baseball seasons at schools that didn’t comply. “We believe equitable coaching salaries are critical for gender equity, because the quality of coaching determines the quality of an athlete’s experience more than anything else,” Boucher says. “We have made this a focal point of our approach, and based on our most recent reviews, softball coaches have made significant strides toward pay equity.

“However, we’re still finding problems here and there,” Boucher continues, “and while I don’t have data on other states’ salaries, my gut feeling is that Kentucky is not alone in having underpaid softball coaches.”

Kentucky is indeed not the only state with pay inequities, according to Neena Chaudhry, Staff Attorney with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Chaudhry says the center regularly receives complaints from girls’ coaches who believe their paychecks reflect discrimination. And while softball coaches in Kentucky benefit from the KHSAA’s proactive approach to enforcing Title IX, coaches elsewhere who suspect their pay is unfair may need to lead the fight themselves.

The first step is understanding the law, so that you can determine whether pay inequity truly exists. Three laws—Title IX, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Pay Act—come into play. Under all three laws, the bottom line is the same: Schools are not legally required to pay their baseball and softball coaches the same salary, but if they don’t, there has to be a valid explanation.

“The simple fact that a school pays its baseball coach more than its softball coach is a red flag, but does not always indicate inequity, since there are several factors a school is allowed to consider in setting salaries,” Boucher says. “For example, if the baseball coach has 20 years’ experience, and the softball coach has four, the school can take that into account. They can also consider things like season length, number of practices and contests, off-the-field responsibilities, and the number of players on each team.”

Title VII and the Equal Pay Act spell out variables that can be considered when setting pay: educational preparation, experience, past success on the field, scope of basic coaching duties (such as recruiting and supervising assistants), and responsibilities beyond coaching (such as fundraising and teaching classes). “Each case needs to be evaluated individually, but rarely are there going to be significant Title VII differences between a baseball coach’s job and a softball coach’s job,” says Donna Lopiano, Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “Few sports are as similar as baseball and softball. In most cases, I believe you could maintain that they are virtually identical jobs.”

Boucher agrees. “What we’ve seen most often are softball coaches who are being significantly underpaid compared to baseball coaches, when there is no reason to justify the difference,” he says.

After evaluating the laws, what can coaches do if they feel they are being discriminated against? Boucher advises carefully following the chain of command to bring a complaint. “Get your facts together and start with your athletic director,” he says. “If that doesn’t work, go to your principal, superintendent, and board of education, in that order. If all else fails, go to the Office for Civil Rights. However, in my experience, most instances of salary discrimination can be resolved at the local level without pursuing legal action.”

The most effective strategy, according to Boucher: Get your athletes’ parents involved. “Get parents on your side and have them lobby to correct the inequity,” he advises. “Parents are passionate about their kids’ experiences, and when they learn that their child’s coach is not being compensated fairly, they will put significant pressure on administrators and school board members. From what we’ve seen here, that is a very effective way to get salaries changed.”

Additional information about coaching salary equity can be found in the WSF’s publication, “Special Issues for Coaches of Women’s Sports.” To access the complete publication, visit: Click on “Athletes,” click on “Issues & Action,” click on “Coaching Issues,” and click on “Women’s Sports Foundation Education Guide: Special Issues for Coaches of Women’s Sports.”