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'Huge statement for women': South Carolina's Dawn Staley gets big raise, contract extension

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South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has a long history of elevating women’s basketball. Now, she’s done it again.

On Friday, the South Carolina Board of Trustees approved a new seven-year, $22.4 million contract for Staley, making her the highest paid Black coach in women’s basketball. The deal, which will pay her $2.9 million this season, puts her on par with UConn’s Geno Auriemma, the highest-paid coach in women’s basketball. It is an $800,000 raise for Staley, who was set to make $2.1 million this season before her new contract was approved Friday.

“Credit where it’s due,” Staley said. “This university and this state have a rich history of racism, and I’m not going to disregard that. But this is one of the most progressive decisions they’ve ever made. They need to be recognized for being committed to leading the way in gender equity in America. This is an equitable statement and in the midst of all our inequities in our country, I hope it’s a turning point.”

Team USA head coach Dawn Staley signals to her team during the first half of the gold medal game in Tokyo.
Team USA head coach Dawn Staley signals to her team during the first half of the gold medal game in Tokyo.

Under the new contract, Staley's base salary will be $1 million per year with outside compensation starting at $1.9 million in the first year and escalation by $100,000 per year thereafter. Her 2021-22 compensation begins at $2.9 million with the final year topping out at $3.5 million. The contract includes additional performance compensation opportunities up to $680,000 per year.

Staley and Auriemma are now the highest paid women’s basketball coaches at public institutions. About a dozen coaches in the women’s game make $1 million a year or more, including Adia Barnes (Arizona), Gary Blair (Texas A&M), Brenda Frese (Maryland), Kelly Graves (Oregon), Kim Mulkey (LSU), Vic Schaefer (Texas), Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Jeff Walz (Louisville). (Salary numbers are not available for private school coaches like Tara VanDerveer at Stanford, the defending national champion, and Southern California’s Lindsay Gottlieb, who was recently hired away from the NBA.)

A message from Dawn Staley: Now is the time to grow our game. You can help.

Staley’s contract comes just a few months after the NCAA Tournament — she led the Gamecocks to their third Final Four — where inequity between the men’s and women’s postseason was exposed and heavily criticized. Staley said that blatant inequity was on her mind as she began contract negotiations.

“I didn’t do this for me,” Staley said. “I am an advocate of equal pay and overall, this is a huge statement for women and for Black women — and not just in sports but all over the country — when you think about how much less they’re paid on the dollar compared to men.”

Staley, 51, has built South Carolina into a women’s basketball power over her 13 seasons in Columbia. She led the Gamecocks to the 2017 national championship — just the second Black female coach to do so in NCAA basketball — and has taken them to three Final Fours in the last six tournaments. They frequently lead the nation in attendance, averaging more than 10,000 fans per game.

This summer, in her first stint as head coach of the USA Women’s Basketball Team, Staley led America to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. As a player, the Hall of Famer was a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and won two Naismith Trophies (1991 and 1992) while at Virginia.

'It's her time to take over:' Dawn Staley determined to lift Black women coaches, win another title at South Carolina

“Dawn Staley is one of the nation’s top coaches, regardless of the sport," said South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner in a statement. "She has built our women’s basketball program from the ground up, and her teams have produced champions, both on and off the floor. The ability to keep Coach Staley at the University of South Carolina is great news for all Gamecocks. I join with our fans in looking forward to seeing the great achievements her program will continue to produce in the future.”

Staley grew up in the projects of north Philadelphia and is one of the most decorated players and coaches, men or women, in the history of the game. She knows this contract has the power to resonate, particularly in the Black community.

“Too often when Black people are in these positions [of leadership] we’re afraid to risk it all,” Staley said. “But I was unfraid to lose. I was principled in my believe that, I’ve done enough … the money is the thing that pulls people in, it’s the highlighter, but for me, it’s about equity. It’s being able to know your worth, know you’re an asset to something and getting what you deserve. And it’s not a favor, it is earned.”

In the last couple years, particularly since the WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement in January 2020, there’s been increased conversation about investing in women, particularly women’s sports. Staley said the people who have been fighting to keep women down, “they’re on the ropes — and we keep punching. At some point, they’re going to throw in the towel.

“We have to keep fighting,” she said. “Now is the time for us to raise women’s sports to where they deservedly belong. It’s long overdue, but we’re moving in the right direction — and there’s momentum to sustain it.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dawn Staley is set to make as much as Connecticut's Geno Auriemma.

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