New Golden Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys was the man of the hour at Wednesday’s news conference announcing his appointment. But some of the before-and-after buzz was about the woman who introduced Claeys to the crowd at the TCF Bank Stadium briefing room — interim athletic director Beth Goetz.
Goetz performed with nary a miscue — as she often has since taking over from the disgraced Norwood Teague on Aug. 7. She evinced calm competence as she uttered appropriate assurances — “we did our due diligence,” “looked for what’s best for the institution” and realized “we believe in Tracy.”
The question that will soon arise for University of Minnesota leaders is whether they believe in Goetz sufficiently to offer her the permanent AD job. And that’s a question of interest not only to those who bleed maroon-and-gold, but also to those who believe women’s athletics suffered a setback during Teague’s three years, even before he resigned amid revelations of brazen sexual harassment.
How women fare in collegiate athletic leadership has long been considered a marker of the nation’s progress toward gender fairness, as much as any head count of elected officials or corporate executives. That’s why the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators stands ready to report that 32 of 351 Division I athletic directors are female. That’s dismal representation 43 years after Title IX became the law of the land.
How Goetz fares in the competition for the permanent AD job on the Twin Cities campus is bound to be watched and judged on feminist as well as athletic grounds.
If the AD vacancy at the U had arisen under different circumstances, Goetz, 41, might not be deemed a leading candidate. She had been Teague’s deputy athletic director for less than 29 months when his career self-destructed. Her prior career started with a love for soccer and took her to the University of Missouri-St. Louis in her hometown and to Butler University. Neither school is in the University of Minnesota’s league, literally or figuratively.
But fate sometimes provides a chance to show that there’s more to one’s qualifications than the employment list on a résumé. Goetz reportedly likes to tell student-athletes, “You’re always interviewing for something.” For her, every day since Aug. 7 has been a de facto interview for the permanent AD post.
Judging from back-of-the-room comments Wednesday, she’s interviewing well — even though she remains coy about her status as a candidate. Goetz still isn’t saying publicly that she will pursue the job.
“I haven’t made any public decision at this time,” she told me after Wednesday’s Claeys-and-Goetz show. “I’ve loved my time at the University of Minnesota, and hope to continue on in whatever capacity I can.”
Claeys — a fellow who knows what it’s like to be a fill-in leader — seemed to endorse her AD candidacy. “Beth has been very good to me and very good to us since we’ve been here,” he said. “Hopefully, she’ll get that opportunity, but I’m sure it will go through the same process as they did with me.”
More significant may have been the enthusiasm of a fellow who knows what gender fairness in collegiate athletics administration requires — Joel Maturi.
“She’s been remarkable!” Maturi exclaimed. “She’s confident, poised, articulate, able. We’re lucky to have her.”
Maturi likely understands better than most the significance of appointing a woman to succeed Teague. He was the first post-Title IX leader of a combined University of Minnesota men’s and women’s athletic department, taking over in 2002 after a merger that disappointed some boosters of women’s sports.
“The only way this will work is with a woman in charge,” state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the sponsor of landmark legislation requiring gender equity in public school sports, said at the time. “I don’t think there’s any question but that men will dominate a merged department unless there’s a woman at the top.”
Maturi arrived knowing that to succeed, he had to prove Kahn wrong — and to his enduring credit, he did. He was hailed as a Title IX hero when he stepped aside in 2012.
By contrast, Teague’s three years at the Bierman Field Athletic Building included a $175,000 settlement payment to a female administrator he fired after she questioned his commitment to Title IX compliance; the design of a new $166 million Athletes Village to be dominated by football and basketball and displace women’s track and field, leading to a 2014 discrimination complaint to the federal Office of Civil Rights; and enough grousing about dissatisfaction among female coaches to reach the ears of an editorial writer not usually attuned to sports matters.
Kahn’s advice about putting a woman in charge seems belatedly relevant.
Two investigations — one triggered by the discrimination complaint, the other by Teague’s conduct — are pending. Dean Johnson, chair of the Board of Regents, said university leaders are likely to wait until the latter investigation is complete before deciding on a search process for a permanent athletic director. The scope of that search — internal or external, local or national — has yet to be decided.
Goetz’s already protracted job interview looks like it will continue for a few more months. That may be in her favor.
“So far, I’d give her high marks, based on the comments I’ve received from pretty much everybody — coaches, alumni, donors, fans,” Johnson said. “She’s doing a stand-up job.” The longer she does, the less likely it will be that she will be asked to step down.
Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, is at firstname.lastname@example.org.