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Raising the Roof for Women in Sports

Marianne Crawford Stanley

It’s an impressive list of accomplishments from a who’s who in the basketball world: two national collegiate championships as a player, three as a head coach; a successful professional coaching career that includes a national championship; inductions into multiple basketball halls of fame and coach of the year honors at the professional and collegiate levels. All of these achievements belong to Marianne Crawford Stanley ’76.

However, it may be what Stanley accomplished off the court that ends up having the biggest impact for generations to come.

After becoming head coach of Old Dominion University at age 23 and winning three national titles with the Division I school, she then turned the once-mighty University of Southern California (USC) women’s team from an 8-19 record to the NCAA’s Elite Eight and brought her team to the second round of the playoff tournament three straight years. With a 22-7 record in 1992-1993, Stanley asked for her salary to match that of the men’s basketball coach. USC ultimately refused and replaced her with another coach. Her bravery eventually paved the way for salary equality for women’s college coaches. It would be a battle fought in a court of law, not on a basketball court.

Stanley filed an $8 million federal Title IX lawsuit against USC for sex discrimination. During this time, when Stanley should have been enjoying the continuation of a successful coaching career, she instead received more than 120 rejections for head coaching vacancies following the lawsuit. After three years of litigation, the ninth circuit court of appeals sided with USC in a 2-1 decision. The court determined that coaching a men’s team was much more demanding than coaching a women’s team. This decision fueled Stanley’s determination, more than ever, to return to coaching.

“It was traumatic to put my career on the line in order to stand up and advance the concept of equal pay for equal work,” states Stanley. “However, I know my colleagues have benefitted tremendously because of that stance.” In 1996, when Stanley secured her first head coaching job in three years, this time at the University of California, Berkeley, she was finally paid the same base salary as the men’s basketball head coach.

In 1994, a report by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association found that female coaches made 59 cents for every dollar earned by a male coach. Stanley notes that women are now in a much better position, in terms of equality in sports, as compared to 1993.

After enduring her unofficial black listing, Stanley’s return to coaching led to some of her greatest feats on the court. Last year as an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics, she helped guide the team to a WNBA national championship before assuming the head coaching role for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. Her resolve and tenacious spirit are direct reflections from her days at Immaculata.

“The Sisters are tremendous servants to the communities they’re involved in,” she points out. “That affected me as a person to adopt and make sure I serve people in my profession. They always pushed us to be leaders both on and off the court.”

When she arrived at Immaculata as a sociology major, Stanley found what she was looking for: a small campus that felt like family. “The thing I’m most fond of was that our close-knit campus community was so unique with the nuns, the student body and our teammates,” she says.

Marianne Crawford Stanley '76Playing point guard for the national championship Mighty Mac teams, Stanley’s four-year college basketball career provided unique opportunities because of the high status the team held. At a time when women’s sports took a backseat to the men’s programs, before Title IX threw a life raft to female athletes, the Mighty Macs were an exception. Stanley and her teammates made history by being the first women’s basketball team to play a game at Madison Square Garden; first to play a nationally televised game; and the first collegiate team to play outside the U.S., playing a one-month tour in Australia. Stanley was instrumental in helping lead the Mighty Macs to two of Immaculata’s three national titles.
As she settles into her new role as head coach of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, she understands that this year is different from last season when she served as an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics.

“Ultimately, how the team performs on the court is my job as head coach,” she acknowledges. According to Stanley, one of the biggest differences between coaching at the college level versus the pros is that for professionals, this is their career—how they make a living. Plus, players are competing against the elite of the elite.

Playing and coaching basketball for nearly 50 years, Stanley is a first-hand witness to changes within the game. In 1972, President Nixon signed into law Title IX, which ensures equal access for women when participating in educational programs or activities, including athletics. She also remembers that when she was a player in the 1970s, her only career option if she wanted to remain in basketball was to become a coach (which was actually rare when Stanley arrived on the coaching scene in the mid-’70s). Now, she says women’s college players can look forward to professional playing or coaching careers, particularly because coaching at the women’s level continues to evolve greatly.

As Stanley stood on the court of the Mystics’ Sports and Entertainment Arena last December celebrating the team’s first-ever championship, she felt that familiar excitement and appreciation for solid teamwork that propels teams to greatness.

Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who played under Stanley at Old Dominion, was quoted in a 2002 article in The Boston Globe discussing her former coach. “The greatest part of her legacy is that she took the bullet for all the young women who want to coach.” Lieberman added that Stanley did not take those risks to make money or gain publicity. “It was what she believed,” she said.

Now, at the pinnacle of her career, Stanley is reaping the rewards of the sport she has helped shape as a player and coach.

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