The third-base coaching box at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium has turned into a teenage clubhouse: No Girls Allowed.
With the elimination of Oklahoma's Patty Gasso and California's Diane Ninemire on Saturday, all four remaining head coaches are men.
But this was no surprise result. It was a development that has been brewing for some time.
Before 2006, the record for most male coaches in the annual event was only four. And that had only happened twice.
But, in four of the last five seasons, the eight-team field has featured five men roaming the coaching box.
This year, that number has grown to a record six.
Sharon Cessna, the NCAA's Director of Championships, said that trend is directly related to an influx of men who have taken interest in the profession.
“There are just a lot of opportunities out there,” Cessna said. “And a lot of male coaches who used to be in the baseball world have found their way to the softball world.”
Alabama's Patrick Murphy is one of those coaches. Right after his graduation from Northern Iowa, Murphy received a ninth-month contract as a graduate assistant at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I would help with softball in the spring and fall,” Murphy said. “But in the summer, I would go back to Iowa and help out with the high school baseball teams.”
Although he enjoyed learning the intricacies of softball in the early 1990s, Murphy couldn't escape his affection for baseball.
“At the time, softball players rarely hit home runs,” Murphy said. “So my enjoyment was going home to Iowa and coaching baseball and watching the ball go over the fence.”
But he would keep going back every year for softball. And he noticed an upward trend in the competitiveness of the game.
“The athletes have gotten so much better it is incredible. Night and day,” Murphy said. “It is a much better game with better athletes.”
And now, in his 13th season leading the Crimson Tide, Murphy said the evolution of the game is what has brought so much exposure.
“To me, softball is the most equivalent to a male sport as any,” Murphy said. “You can see the ball go over the fence, you can see pitchers throwing gas, you can see fielders making plays and you can see great arms behind the plate. But you can't see a female dunk like LeBron James.”
Murphy was one of the earliest to cross over. Slowly, with more programs sponsoring the sport, other males would follow suit.
“I can remember at a convention one time when I first started, there was three guys in the entire room,” Murphy said. “At the last convention I went to, it was maybe 60-40 female.”
But there are two sides to this growing trend. With every vacant opening given to a male, another spot closes for a qualified female.
Ninemire is in her 20th year as head coach of the Golden Bears, and this is an issue she has seen progress over time.
“I think when I started coaching, there was about 95 percent women in the sport,” Ninemire said. “As we see today, I think there is closer to 45 percent of coaches that are women.”
Ninemire admits that some of the best coaches in the game may be male, but she hopes the decreasing number of females doesn't discourage aspiring coaches.
“I just hope that those young ladies will not give up their dream and keep on wanting to be coaches,” Ninemire said. “If we don't feed our girls with the dream that they can continue, soon, in about 10 more years, I've estimated we will be down to about 25 percent.”
Ninemire believes one of the best ways to combat that issue is to allow more paid opportunities for assistant coaches. As currently constituted, the NCAA allows two paid assistants and one volunteer.
“It's very difficult for young females coming out of college to be able to afford to go into a coaching career,” Ninemire said. “We should look into getting more grad assistants and keeping kids in school. Give them three years to finish their degree and have one or two more people on our staff.”