Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw Is Unapologetically Revolutionizing Sports for Women


Calling Game sat down with Notre Dame Women’s Head Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw to talk about the future of amateurism in college sports, how the NBA has been an advocate for women, and more. McGraw phoned in to the Calling Game studio to give us her take on some of the biggest issues facing college athletes and women in sports.

Muffet McGraw is a no-nonsense basketball coaching champion. She is widely respected in the basketball community as a whole–let alone women’s college basketball. She’s a two-time NCAA champ, who in the 2018 Women’s NCAA Final Four tournament, was the only female coach. McGraw is likely all too familiar with being the only woman in the room–an especially disappointing feeling in a field that is dedicated to women.

As a result, McGraw has taken what some may argue as possibly the most aggressive approach to creating fairer opportunities for women in athletics–she will never hire another male in her coaching staff. There’s a method to McGraw’s progressive approach. Just 41.5% of the coaches for women’s teams in the NCAA are female. Only 18.75% of teams in the 2019 women’s NCAA tournament have an all-female coaching staff. In a time where women’s college teams are receiving their highest levels of participation ever, only one out of every 4.5 head coaches in college sports are women.

Coach McGraw knows that these numbers aren’t due to a lack of interest in women’s sports. She has experienced first-hand having to work twice as hard for a sports job as a man. In a field dominated by men, McGraw wants to be the catalyst that gives women the opportunity they deserve.

In a press conference last April, McGraw reiterated her intention to never hire another man, saying, “How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future?” McGraw added, “We don’t have enough female role models, we don’t have enough visible women leaders, we don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender roles are already set.”

Calling Game asked McGraw about her viral speech and the importance of seeing women in positions of power. McGraw said, “If they don’t see it, no matter how many times you tell your daughters ‘you can be anything you want to be,’ if they don’t see it, they’re not going to believe it.”

McGraw told us that after her comments earlier this year, Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, was one of the people who really listened to her message, and acted on it. In May, Silver stated that he wants half of all new referees coming into the league to be women. “The goal is: Going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.” McGraw’s former assistant at Notre Dame, Niele Ivey, was hired as an assistant coach by the Memphis Grizzlies in August.

Calling Game then spoke to Coach McGraw on the new California Pay to Play law that was signed into effect on Monday. The bill allows college athletes to profit off the use of their name, image, and likeness. While McGraw certainly believes the focus of college sports should be on education and students as amateurs, she noted that times are changing rapidly after a long period of stagnation for the NCAA.

McGraw mentioned she believes that we shouldn’t forget that these kids are in college, and that their main priority should be their education–

“These kids are supposed to be amateurs. They’re getting their education. And I am a big proponent of the fact that we are educators–and I think that it’s just going to change the landscape.”

However, McGraw noted that change is coming, and the NCAA needs to adjust, saying, “I’m sure that many states will follow the lead of California. And the NCAA has a lot of work to do to try to figure out, ‘how can we meet them halfway? How can we help the student athletes who deserve to get their likeness or be able to use some talent that they have, and not change from amateur to professional for what we have in college.”

McGraw also spoke about the necessity of male allies for women, not just in sport, but across all areas in the workplace. In an industry that is so overwhelmingly male-dominated, it is extremely difficult for a woman to break in to a top position of leadership. As a result, McGraw says that male allies in professional sports need to take a seat at the table and endorse women in sports.

“I do think we need men. I think you’re absolutely right, we need, not just as allies, we need advocates. We need people in the room that are saying ‘hey, I think this woman would be great, I think we need to promote this woman,’ and that’s across the country in everything, not just sports, in every avenue because there’s so many women across the country just looking for that opportunity, but without a man in the room telling other men in the room ‘this is what we need to do,’ things just aren’t going to change for us.”

To listen to the rest of our conversation with McGraw where we discuss Lebron James’s #MoreThanAnAthlete campaign, the importance of the WNBA, and her Philly coaching roots, listen to Calling Game’s podcast below.

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(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Kelsey Trainor is a former two sport collegiate athlete, collegiate women's basketball coach and current attorney & producer. Amba Jagnarine is a former college athlete in charge of business development at Abrams Media (Mediaite's parent company). We are passionate about sports and giving women a bigger voice in all aspects of it. Twitter: @ktrain_11 | @AmbaJagnarine