Raising the B.A.R. Invitational is more than a basketball tournament

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Caroline Lobel/Staff

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Head coaches Charmin Smith, Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Stacie Terry-Hutson and Jackie Carson may all be facing off at the Raising the Basketball, Activism, Representation — or B.A.R. — Invitational, but they will also be standing together. The tournament — which used to be called the Cal Classic — features four teams led by Black women. Cal, Ole Miss, San Diego State and Furman will all be playing not just to win, but to raise awareness for a glaring discrepancy in the demographics of the groups that get an opportunity to coach at the NCAA level.

All four games will take place at Haas Pavilion, as Cal is hosting the other three teams. The Bears will open the invitational facing Furman at 1 p.m. PST on Friday, Nov. 26. That game will be immediately followed by a matchup between SDSU and Ole Miss at 3 p.m. The two losing teams will play a consolation game at 1 p.m. Saturday, and the two winners will play for the title of tournament champion at 3 p.m.

From a strictly basketball perspective, Cal fans have plenty of reasons to be excited to watch their squad. The Bears aren’t just an undefeated 4-0, but they’re also looking to be dominant across all four games. The team has dynamic guard play, from freshman Jayda Curry and junior Leilani McIntosh, as well as commanding forces in the paint such as sophomore Dalayah Daniels and junior Evelien Lutje Schipholt. They’ve shot the ball efficiently, passed it unselfishly and shut other teams down defensively.

But basketball only makes up one-third of the B.A.R. acronym, and frankly, it’s the least important. This tournament is about much more than which team wins.

Coach Smith recently pointed out why the imbalance of who gets the chance to be a coach in college women’s basketball programs is such a pressing issue.

“Representation matters, and in a sport of which 46% of student-athletes are Black, it’s telling that only 17% of head coaches are Black women,” Smith said.

She then went on to clarify that this issue goes far beyond women’s basketball.

“This is an area in which athletics departments need to be more intentional across the board.”

Unfortunately, Smith is spot on with her insightful analysis. In 2020, the most recent year in which full data is available, the NCAA Demographics Database found that only 228 of the 6,754 head coaches in Division I were Black women. That’s a measly 3.34%. For comparison, 4,107 of these spots were filled by white men, which makes up over 60%.

These numbers don’t get much better when you zoom out from looking at just head coach positions. The 2020 results showed that Black women account for barely 5% of DI assistant coaches and less than 1% of strength coaches. Of course the issue goes deeper than this, as these same discrepancies exist across the board in Division I NCAA athletics. Black women make up less than 5% of many leadership roles such as athletic directors, associate directors of athletics and head athletic trainers.

Black women not receiving equal working opportunities as their colleagues is a much, much bigger issue than just DI athletics. But in the world of women’s basketball, it seems that the times are slowly starting to change. Last year accounted for historic success among black female coaches. It featured the first two Black women to ever coach a team to the Final Four. Dawn Staley and Adia Barnes each reached that milestone for South Carolina and Arizona, respectively. Outside of the depressing reality that it took 39 years to reach this point, it was an achievement to celebrate nonetheless.

It seems as if many programs are finally starting to give black women more opportunities to lead women’s basketball teams. Seven of the 17 DI coaching vacancies were filled by Black women. But there is still a lot of work to be done and improvements to be made, which is why the dialogue inspired by the Raising the B.A.R. tournament is so important.

Fans of the blue and gold in the Bay Area have lots of reasons to head down to Haas Pavilion to support their team Friday. They’ll get to watch a team already surpassing expectations get the chance to continue its positive momentum. And on top of that, they’ll get to support a tournament highlighting a very important issue. Only one of the four head coaches will come away from this tournament with a trophy, but all will have helped bring attention to a pressing matter in their sport.

Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].