The coaching matchup in the NCAA women's East regional basketball final in Pittsburgh on Monday was intriguing in more ways than one. On one bench was Geno Auriemma of reigning champion Connecticut, which finished the season atop the AP poll. On the other was Leon Barmore of No. 6 Louisiana Tech, the winningest Division I basketball coach, men's or women's, in NCAA history. "It's no accident," says Barmore of the fact that the sport's two most successful male coaches should face each other before the Final Four. "I've been around too long, seen too much. A few years ago Andy [Landers, of Georgia] and I were ranked one and two [in the USA Today coaches poll], and they placed us in the same regional."
This year Landers's Lady Bulldogs finished No. 4 in the AP and were also placed in the East. That three of the country's top six teams were put in the same regional is curious enough. That all three are coached by men raises the troubling question of whether the tournament selection committee of 10 women set up the brackets to limit the number of male coaches in the Final Four and, beyond that, whether a subtle reverse discrimination is at work in women's basketball.
"Absolutely not," says committee member Carol Sprague, associate athletic director at Pitt. "It's ridiculous that people even bring up this conspiracy theory regarding gender."
"I don't know if there's a conspiracy," says Colorado State's Tom Collen, one of eight male coaches in the East regional (out of 20 men in the field of 64). "I do know that I'm 105-26 in four seasons and have never gotten a call when a job opened up. You know what every list of up-and-coming coaches in women's college basketball has in common? No men are on it."
Were the top male coaches placed in the same bracket so that they might kill off one another before reaching this weekend's Final Four? "You can look at it that way," says ESPN basketball analyst Vera Jones. "Then again, you can look at it as if it's a virtual guarantee that at least one male will reach the Final Four."
One male coach, Auriemma, did advance to St. Louis. That may or may not be fair, but it's one more man in the women's Final Four than women in the men's Final Four.