As you watch the NCAA March Madness Tournament, think about how much more you hear about the men’s side of the game.
March Madness is without a doubt associated with men’s basketball. The female counterpart, known as the Women’s Basketball Championship, doesn’t even take the same name.
What creates such a stark imbalance season after season? Why isn’t this a more common question? Collegiate women’s basketball certainly has a fascinating storyline for both the general public and sports media to talk about.
There will always be athletes, coaches and teams that can transcend the nature of the game. Right now, perhaps the most dominant presence in all of sports is the University of Connecticut’s Women’s Basketball team.
The UConn Huskies have made the Elite Eight in the tourney every year since 2000 except 2005. They have won four consecutive championships and an NCAA-record 107 games (and counting!) in a row.
That’s something not even John Wooden was able to do during his historic run with the UCLA Bruins during the 1970s.
Even this incredible achievement often gets discredited due to a lack of competition. Nancy Armour wrote about why that’s ridiculous logic (via USA TODAY):
“Any criticism of Connecticut’s winning streak says more about the folks griping than it does the Huskies.”
Those who diminish this incredible achievement represent a wildly frustrating opinion among certain fans. And it’s also damaging.
No matter the medium, people are more likely to identify with something more if they sense a connection to it.
If the general mood implies that women are excluded from the mainstream conversation in basketball, young girls will not feel it’s possible to make a name for themselves in the sport.
Without success proudly flaunted, people do not see the opportunities at the next level. That’s significantly problematic and limits the growth of the game.
And there are plenty of young girls who could feel inspired by representation, which is consistently empowering. According to FiveThirtyEight, women’s basketball has been the most popular women’s team sport at the high school level since the 1970s.
So where’s the dialogue about the sport when it comes to continued competition?
Unfortunately, this is not just a problem with collegiate women’s basketball. It’s a fully gendered concern. Look no further than the ridiculous pay gap between the United States men’s and women’s Soccer teams.
The women’s national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year. Here’s what my colleague Ty Duffy said about the dispute:
“Employers cannot discriminate by gender under U.S. law. Jobs don’t have to be identical, but “substantially equal.” U.S. Soccer is a single entity. TV rights are sold together.”
The collegiate equivalent of this U.S. law is Title IX, which was established for a similar purpose but for education in 1972.
Otherwise, it’s hard to compare collegiate basketball with professional soccer because athletes are not getting paid in the NCAA. The sentiment, however, remains the same.
No, women’s basketball certainly does not generate nearly as much revenue as its male counterpart. But the sport also doesn’t receive even a fraction of the same attention.
From my personal experience, I felt a large sense of civic pride when my hometown Los Angeles Sparks won the WNBA title. I was similarly excited to see that my alma mater, the University of Oregon Ducks, qualified for the women’s tournament for the first time since 2005.
I spoke with former Oregon basketball star Jillian Alleyne, who now plays professionally for the Phoenix Mercury, about this exact topic in 2014.
She told me that women are used more for their assets in sports media than what they do for the sport. Liz Brenner, who was a four-sport athlete in the Pac-12, speculated that women are presented as more attractive to help grow popularity.
Even comments from former professional basketball players like Gilbert Arenas reflect the nightmare that Brenner and Alleyne described.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist if you don’t watch women’s soccer or women’s basketball. But when we do have those conversations about women sports, it would be wise to be more mindful about these talking points.
There is significant value in changing the narrative around women’s sports. During the postseason tournament this year in college basketball, consider the disparity between coverage of men’s basketball and women’s basketball.