Notre Dame Law School hosted a special alumni event on June 6 in New York City with two legends from the Fighting Irish women’s basketball program.
Muffet McGraw, who served as head women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame from 1987 to 2020, and Coquese Washington ’92, ’97 J.D., the head women’s basketball coach at Rutgers, sat down for a fireside chat with G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.
Nearly 150 alumni and friends of the Law School attended the hour-long chat at Union League Club in Manhattan.
The wide-ranging conversation covered the coaches’ thoughts on women in leadership positions, the Notre Dame experience, and the issues facing women’s athletics at the collegiate and professional levels.
McGraw, who led the Fighting Irish to two national championships and nine Final Four appearances during her 33 years as head coach, said her success on the court was due, in part, to the culture of integrity Notre Dame upholds.
“We set the bar really high and we generally achieve it, which is why people hate us,” said McGraw, drawing laughter from the audience for her quip at the end of that sentence. “But those values are so important in everything that we do, and it’s just such a big part of why Notre Dame is such a special place.”
Washington played under McGraw at Notre Dame and later served as one of her assistant coaches. A “Double Domer” who earned her B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and J.D. from Notre Dame Law School, Washington said her legal training at ND Law helped her negotiate better working conditions for players during the early days of the WNBA.
“When the league first started, there was no year-round health insurance, there was no maternity leave, there was no 401(k) — there was none of that,” Washington said.
“You just got your salary. If you were on the team this week, you got paid. But if you got cut next week, that was it. You were done getting paid,” she said. “And we knew that the league could not thrive and sustain itself if the working conditions for the players were such that it was a side gig. So, sitting in a room across from David Stern and Adam Silver and Val Ackerman and literally haggling over hundreds of dollars and haggling over what our working conditions were, certainly my background as a lawyer came into play in those instances.”
McGraw and Washington also hope that more women will begin taking leadership roles within collegiate athletics to better address discrepancies in pay and representation.
"In 1972, when Title IX was passed, 90% of the coaches of women’s sports were women. Right now, 40% of the coaches of women’s sports are women,” McGraw said. “We have way too many men in our game. We need to get them out and that’s how you’re going to see this leadership come about — when girls can look up at you and say, ‘There’s somebody that looks like me and I can be a leader.’ We just don't have enough women leaders right now."
Washington added, “A lot of it comes back to opportunities that we have to be seen in the c-suites, in the athletic directors chairs and the conference commissioners chairs. We need more women in those positions to make change.”
Watch the full conversation in the video below.