VanDerveer warns that NIL collectives undermine Title IX

With women’s sports growing at an unprecedented pace, the Bay Area followed the trend with two new professional women’s sports teams. The Bay Area Football Club, or Bay FC, started its first season in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Come 2025, Golden State’s WNBA franchise will play in its inaugural season.

But with women’s sports growing, how can the pipeline of female coaches and executives in sports expand?

At the Hiller Aviation center on Tuesday, former Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer, along with WNBA Golden State President Jess Smith and Bay FC CEO Brady Stewart, spoke to the Women’s Coaching Alliance about empowering female leaders in sports.

“At Stanford, I hired assistant coaches that are female,” VanDerveer said. “It’s important for us as women to have confidence in other women.”

“As women, we feel like we have to take 100 classes on something and have all these degrees,” VanDerveer said. “But sometimes you have to just jump in the pool and swim.”

These words couldn’t ring truer in VanDerveer’s case.

“I did not plan to be a coach,” she said. “I planned to go to law school.” But by coaching her sister’s high school team on her parents’ demands, VanDerveer set herself on a trajectory to become the winningest college basketball coach in history.

During the roundtable, all the participants also offered their tips on developing leadership skills. 

Smith noted that vulnerability was a powerful tool she’s used to develop closer relationships with her staff at Angel City.

“Being vulnerable with your staff and being vulnerable with your surroundings is such a powerful thing,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Stewart told the audience that she has been able to overcome self-doubt through learning from her previous experiences.

“In my career I’ve taken some major body blows,” Stewart said. “The doubt dissolves when I remind myself that I have done the reps. I’ve had hard meetings and hard conversations, and [I have] come out better for it.”

While all members of the roundtable engaged in discussions about best leadership practices, it was VanDerveer’s comments toward the end that were perhaps the most thought-provoking.

The long-time women’s basketball coach noted that the overwhelming majority of NIL money from collectives was going to men’s sports, particularly football and men’s basketball. VanDerveer said this situation threatens the spirit of Title IX, designed to ensure equitable funding to men and women’s sports.

The long-time Stanford head coach also mentioned that in the world of NIL, college sports has become a transactional space where athletes are less invested in programs for values’ sake and more interested in how much money they will get.

“I am a basketball coach, and now I have to be a CEO,” VanDerveer said.

While the 46-year collegiate head coach said that the current NIL landscape was a “definite negative” when contemplating whether to return to coaching or retire, she believes that collectives are here to stay.

VanDerveer then invited audience members to propose a solution to the issue of inequitable NIL funding between men’s and women’s sports. Several proposed federal legislation that would force collectives to be transparent about the allocation of funds.

While there are no ready-made solutions to solve gender sports inequities, VanDerveer emphasized that the present is the time to accelerate the advancement of women’s sports.

“When Cheryl Miller played at USC, the Women’s Basketball Championship was on CBS and had 12 million viewers. When I coached the Olympic Team in 1996, the gold medal game was still the record for the most watched women’s basketball game. So how did we not build on that momentum,” VanDerveer said. “You gotta keep giving [women’s sports] sunshine, water and fertilizer to keep it going.”