Duke’s men’s basketball managers are easy to notice if you’re watching the Blue Devils in the stands.

At every timeout, the managers dash onto the court with one handing a clipboard to head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the others giving the players Gatorade and towels. They usually all dress similarly with each wearing black slacks, black Nike sneakers and a blue, black or white collared shirt with a Duke logo.

But in recent years, another feature has been glaring—they’re all men.

Although the team says that both men and women can become student managers, a woman has not served in the role since the 2014-15 season. And with Duke’s 2017-18 season underway and the undefeated Blue Devils ranked No. 1 in the country, a team spokesman confirmed that the program does not have a female manager again this year.

Women have applied in recent years, and female managers used to be common—the team had at least one every year during an eight-year span beginning in 2007. But in 2014, one now-former student not affiliated with the program was directly told by a manager that the team was not going to hire women anymore.

A former female applicant also recently complained to the Office for Institutional Equity about the team not hiring women. She said OIE told her it was looking into the matter. 

That applicant provided The Chronicle with a copy of a message from another former manager showing that the team has held female applicants to a higher standard than males.

She and one other former female applicant also said that the application process and interview in front of only men is intimidating and uncomfortable for female applicants. The latter woman said she felt self-conscious about wearing a dress during her interview.

A continuing trend

Duke’s student managers are considered critical to the team’s success.

The managers spend 30 to 50 hours per week with the players and coaches and travel with the team for away games. Their duties include setting up equipment for workouts, hauling luggage on road trips, retrieving balls at shoot-arounds and giving players water and Gatorade during games. 

The total number of managers each year varies from about 10 to 13. Although they work unpaid, managers are eligible to receive scholarships not given to other regular Duke students. David Bradley, director of basketball operations, oversees the managers.

The shift to not hiring female managers in recent years has been stark. Media guides on GoDuke.com show that until 2015, women routinely served as managers. Each team from 2007 to 2015 had at least one female manager, and there were some seasons during which there were as many as two or three.

The most recent female manager appears in Duke’s 2013-14 and 2014-15 media guides. She would have also appeared in the 2012-13 media guide, but she was a first-year at that time and the media guide pictures appear to exclude first-year managers. All of the media guides since 2014-15 show only men.

The football team, by comparison, currently has 12 managers and one has been a woman each of the last two years. Media guides also show that three of the 11 managers for the women’s basketball team are men. At least two men have served in that role each of the last three years.

When asked why the men’s basketball team has not had a female manager since 2015 and whether the team deliberately avoids hiring female applicants, Jon Jackson, senior associate director of athletics and external affairs, wrote in an email that manager positions are open to both men and women.

He added that women make up a small percentage of applicants, noting that one of 18 applicants this year was a woman. She dropped out of the process after hearing that she received an interview, he said.

But one now-former student said a male manager—who was then a senior serving in the role for his fourth straight year—told her in 2014 that the team was not going to hire women anymore. The former student said the topic came up during a conversation with the manager about a first-year woman who wanted to become a manager.

The manager said that having female managers was too much of a hassle because the team has to make special accommodations for them like booking them their own hotel rooms during road trips and giving them a separate locker room.

That student who spoke to the manager requested anonymity and declined to say more for publication for fear of retribution from the Duke community. 

The Chronicle also obtained a copy of a message showing that in 2014 the team held female applicants to a higher standard than men. The message shows that another male manager—who was a senior and had already served in the role for three years—said the team would only accept female applicants in special cases.

The person, a former applicant, who provided the message wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from Duke and students for providing the information. The Chronicle cannot disclose more information about the message because doing so could give up the person’s identity.

That person recently met with a representative from the Office for Institutional Equity to complain about the team not hiring female applicants. The representative told the person the office would look into the matter.

When asked whether OIE is investigating the team’s manager hiring process, Cynthia Clinton, assistant vice president of OIE, said the office does not confirm nor comment on individual situations.

Jackson did not respond to multiple follow-up emails after The Chronicle learned of the message and the other exchange during which the manager said the team would not hire women anymore. The emails included questions about whether the team is doing anything to hire more female managers.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public relations and government affairs, repeated Jackson’s initial comment in an email that the manager positions are open to women.

He declined to comment about the correspondence and the other exchange between the student and the manager. 

The Chronicle also reached Drew Goldstein, a former manager, by telephone. He referred all questions to the team. Ian McKiernan, another former manager,  could not be reached for comment. 

‘It’s incredibly daunting for women’

The Chronicle could not confirm how many women apply annually, though at least two applied last year. And the woman who provided the message and another former female applicant, who applied within the last three years, said the application process and interviews naturally put female applicants at a disadvantage.

The woman, who applied within the last three years, was granted anonymity because she feared a backlash from the campus community for speaking out against the team.

Both women said the first round of interviews takes place in a conference room inside the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center for Athletic and Academic Excellence, located next to Cameron Indoor Stadium. All active managers participate in each interview.

The team instructs any applicants who arrive early to sit in the courtyard outside Cameron. When it is time for each interview, a manager goes down to the courtyard and walks the applicant up to the conference room.

Once inside, each applicant walks across the room and sits in a chair that is facing a conference table. At that point, all of the managers are already sitting in rows on the other side of the table. The woman who applied within the last three years said the senior managers appeared to sit in the front row with the juniors on the side and the sophomores in the second row. 

“It’s like you and this table of men,” she said. “It’s incredibly daunting for women going in, let alone that it’s intimidating in the first place that you have to walk 15 seconds across the room looking at these guys.”

The two women noted that the chair that they had to sit in was placed in an awkward position because it was a few feet away from the table. The woman who applied within the last three years said she was concerned that the position would allow the managers—who were all men—to see up the bottom of her dress.

“They sit you in a chair like slightly moved back from the table. So I was forced to then make sure my legs were put together at all times because I wasn’t hidden under the table,” she said. “I [had] to hold myself in this one position for like 30 minutes.”

Throughout the interview, the managers ask basic questions about each applicant’s work ethic, role models, class schedule and why he or she wants to be a manager. The two women who have gone through the interview said that the questions were gender neutral and did not make them feel any more uncomfortable. In fact, the woman who applied in the last three years said she left the interview feeling confident that she did well.

She was denied the position less than a week later.

The women said they understand that the interview and application process is supposed to be nerve-wracking. They added that they do not think the men try to look up female applicant’s skirts.

But they agreed that the process is naturally more intimidating for women who interview in front of only men. The men cannot understand how uncomfortable it is to be the only female sitting in the room answering questions from a bunch of guys, the women said.

“Yes it sucks for everyone,” the woman who applied in the last three years said. “But if any one of [the managers] were to be in my place, they’d realize how much harder it was.”

Legal implications

Because the student managers receive tuition scholarships, the program constitutes an educational opportunity and falls under the civil rights law, Title IX, said civil rights lawyers Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Leto Copeley.

Title IX prohibits schools and educational programs that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex. Hogshead-Makar and Copeley—who both work with Title IX— said that prohibiting women from becoming managers would violate the law.

“That is sex discrimination, period. It doesn’t get any more blatant than that,” Hogshead-Makar said. “This is an educational opportunity that is clearly covered under Title IX.”

Both lawyers added that any team practice against hiring women could subject the school to federal penalties from the Department of Education.

Hogshead-Makar said that someone could file a Title IX complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. If the office launched an investigation and confirmed that the manager program discriminates against female applicants, it could threaten to withhold federal funds from the University. Although the Department of Education rarely goes through with such a punishment, it usually forces universities into compliance, Hogshead-Makar said.

When told about Hogshead-Makar and Copeley’s statements, Schoenfeld wrote in an email that Duke has policies that prohibit discrimination based on sex or gender.

“Individuals who believe they have been subject to discrimination in the hiring process are strongly encouraged to report that through the designated channels so the University can review their specific complaint,” he wrote.

The Office of Counsel, which provides legal representation for the University, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Hogshead-Makar and Copeley also noted that women who have been rejected in the last three years could file civil and class action lawsuits against the team for gender discrimination. The key for anybody who sues, they said, would be to prove that a discriminatory policy or agreement against hiring women exists.

“It could be a class-action lawsuit in the same way that African Americans who are denied the ability to be a firefighter would be able to sue,” Hogshead-Makar said.  

If you have had experiences as a men’s basketball manager or as an applicant to become a manager that you would like to share with The Chronicle in a confidential manner, please contact Sam Turken