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Dawn Staley hopes 7-year, $22.4M contract extension is a 'benchmark' for equality, investment

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Dawn Staley reminded former Gamecock standout A'ja Wilson she was in a contract year during an Instagram Live in September, but she could have easily been talking about her own "get a bag" year. 

The South Carolina women's basketball head coach is now the highest paid Black coach, and among the highest overall, after the South Carolina Board of Trustees approved a new seven-year, $22.4 million contract on Friday. 

Staley said the inequity at the 2021 men's and women's basketball tournaments was on her mind when she negotiated the deal and she wanted it to "be a benchmark, an example for other universities to invest in their women's basketball programs, too."

“I didn’t do this for me,” Staley told Lindsay Schnell of USA Today Sports. “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, is set to make $2.9 million this season, a $800,000 raise from her previous slated salary for 2021-2022. It is second to only Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma's $3 million for women's basketball coaches at public institutions. Auriemma signed a new contract in May. 

Staley among highest paid coaches 

Dawn Staley
Head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates a berth in the Final Four last spring. (C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Staley, who enters her 14th season at South Carolina, will make a base salary of $1 million per year with outside compensation starting at $1.9 million in the first year, the school said. The outside compensation will increase by $100,000 each of the seven years so that her total package in 2027-28 is $3.5 million. 

“Credit where it’s due,” Staley said, via USA Today Sports. “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.”

Coaches leading top women's programs are very slowly being rewarded with larger contracts like ones men's coaches have garnered. According to a USA Today Sports database of men's coaching salaries, Staley's new deal would place her around 32nd overall, and Auriemma at 27th. 

There are about 12 coaches in women's basketball who have broken the $1 million per year mark that about 70 men's coaches eclipsed. They are, per USA Today Sports, 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). 

Salaries at private institutions are not required as public information, so Stanford head coach Tara Vanderveer's salary is unknown. According to Stanford University tax filings in 2016, she made about $2.3 million. 

Gamecocks continue to climb under Staley

The Gamecocks won their second consecutive SEC Tournament title, and sixth under Staley, before falling in the 2021 Final Four. Stanford won that game, 66-65, and went on to defeat Arizona in the national championship game. 

It was the third Final Four berth in six years for Staley, who has taken South Carolina to at least the Sweet 16 every year since 2014 (excluding 2020, when the tournament was canceled). The Gamecocks, behind WNBA MVP Wilson, won their first and so far only national title in 2017. Staley became only the second Black female coach in NCAA basketball to win it. 

"Dawn Staley is one of the nation's top coaches, regardless of the sport," South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said in a release. "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."

The Gamecocks enter the 2021-22 season with every member of last year's Final Four team as well as ACC Freshman of the Year and Co-Defender of the Year Kamilla Cardoso, who transferred from Syracuse. South Carolina brings in the No. 1 recruiting class, per ESPNW rankings.

Staley lifting women's basketball 

Staley's efforts have gone beyond sustained on-court success and now a benchmark contract deal. She has worked tirelessly to grow the team and the sport as a whole, beginning as soon as she walked onto campus from coaching at Temple. Staley has been gracious and creative with reporters so that South Carolina is rightfully covered well locally and been active in bringing fans to Colonial Life Arena. 

The team had an average attendance of 3,000 when she began and averaged more than 13,000 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Season ticket sales are currently up by 1,300 over the last pre-pandemic season. 

This past summer she led Team USA to its seventh consecutive gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.