The WNBA continues to lead all professional sports leagues in hiring women and minorities for coaching and front-office positions.
The league earned an overall A-plus grade as well as A-pluses for racial and gender diversity in its hiring practices, according to a report card issued Thursday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, or TIDES.
It scored 97.6 points in the TIDES rating system — the highest score recorded since the organization began producing report cards in 1988. TIDES issues the report cards for the NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, MLS, college sports and Associated Press Sports Editor-affiliated newspapers and websites.
"Part of the reason is they started later than the other (leagues), so from the start, they were able to make that commitment," said Richard Lapchick, the institute's director and the lead report author, of the league that began play in 1997.
"If you're starting from ground zero and you can hire that way from the beginning, then you've got a better head start," he added. "The WNBA has continued to press that as a priority, and I think the effects have been remarkable but also consistent."
The WNBA set the previous record with a score of 96.5 points in 2014. The league had 93.7 points last year and 95.5 points in 2016.
The WNBA has received an A or an A-plus for its overall race, gender and combined grade in each of the last 14 years from the organization based at the University of Central Florida.
"I think, in particular, the WNBA is a kind of model of how to do it for all leagues, but in particular now that they have literally, virtually a perfect gender score," Lapchick said. "They have shown the way that you can find talented people who can run sports organizations effectively if you work hard enough and make yourself committed to that."
The only men's league comparable to the WNBA is the NBA, which most recently received an A-plus for racial hiring and B for gender hiring.
The report comes as the league has a high-profile job to fill: WNBA president Lisa Borders stepped down earlier this month, effective Nov. 1. She ran the league for three seasons after joining in 2016 as its fourth president — and all of them have been women.
The study calls the WNBA "the most diverse league in professional sports," with 52 percent of all team professional positions held by women and 27.7 percent of those positions held by people of color. According to the study, 36 women and 12 people of color are vice presidents or above in team front offices.
The report also found that 14 women and 11 people of color were in team ownership positions this year, an increase of three among women and two among people of color from 2017.
There also were six women who were team CEOs or presidents, one more than there were in 2017 and matching the high that was established in 2010. And there were four people of color in CEO or team president roles, an increase of three from last year and equaling the high set in 2015.
There were a few notable declines, though.
The league had only three head coaches of color, matching its lowest number since 2006. The percentage of women in the WNBA league office fell for the third consecutive year, from 54 percent in 2017 to 50 percent. And the percentage of people of color as assistant coaches dropped from its record of 53.8 percent a year ago to 50 percent.
Among women assistant coaches, the percentage dropped from 61.5 percent last year to 59.4 percent in 2018.
While the overall scores are high for the WNBA, Lapchick says there's still room for improvement.
"You can always get better, and you can argue that since it's a women's league, that there should be a higher standard for hiring practices for women in the league, and I would probably argue that way particularly as it can be a model (league)," Lapchick said. "Seeing a league that's so committed to these values is critically important."