Everyday male and female collegiate athletes go through the same routine — waking up earlier than the rest of us, working out, watching what they eat and traveling endlessly all while keeping up with classes and juggling their social lives.
Each of these athletes demonstrates the same dedication, the same commitment on and off their respective playing ground, regardless of their gender.
So why is it that our country as a whole is infinitely more fascinated by male dominant sports such as football? We’re all guilty of it, too.
Ask any self-proclaimed sports fan who won the BCS National Championship or the Men’s NCAA tournament and they can tell you in an instant. Ask the same fan who won the Women’s NCAA tournament, however, and you’re more likely than not to be met with silence, and maybe even a guilty stare.
How did this chasm between support for men’s and women’s sports come to be? The root of the problem can be traced back to media coverage, or lack thereof.
During the regular season, basketball is the most covered collegiate women’s sport, and it is still difficult to find a game being broadcasted. The only chance of catching a game on TV is if both teams are ranked in the top ten and there is no men’s game competing for the time slot.
One may think that the networks and their affiliates would be working to alleviate this problem, but unfortunately, the opposite is true.
According to the University of Southern California Center for Feminist Research, between 2004 and 2008 the percentage of women’s sports broadcasted dropped from 6.3% to 1.6.%.
The lack of acknowledgement towards women in sports extends past just the players and game-day coverage, too.
A few months ago Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University became the coach with the most wins in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball history, with 903 victories.
Leading up to this monumental moment in college basketball, commentators across the board compared him to a host of historically successful coaches including his mentor and previous record holder, Bobby Knight as well as the legendary John Wooden.
But what of his most successful contemporary, Pat Summitt? The Lady Vols head coach has notched more than 1,000 wins in her career at the University of Tennessee as well as eight national titles, second only to Wooden’s ten championships.
So why is it that the commentators were lax in mentioning her incredible feat? Were her wins somehow less earned or deserved?
It could be argued that her record is in fact more relevant than those of coaches like Wooden, who earned their status in an entirely different era.
Looking further to the role of the fan, the University of Connecticut embodies the discrepancy between men’s and women’s sports.
UConn boasts two impressive and nationally recognized basketball programs, so it would only seem natural to assume their fan bases are equally strong. If anything, the women’s program should have an even more dedicated fan base, given their dominance over the last decade, producing five championships and a winning percentage of 92.7%.
But, in their opening games of the 2011-2012 seasons, the men’s game drew in 10,167 fans whereas the women’s game, just two days later, played host to only 6,548.
If there is such a large divide at a school with one of the best women’s teams in history, imagine how much more astounding it must be at a school of a smaller stature.
Even with the problem in full riposte, the solution is far less clear. Indeed, one could say this challenge presents a bit of a chicken and egg problem.
Do women’s sports need more media coverage to expand their fan base, or do they need a larger fan base to garner more media coverage? In order to get women’s sports to become more nationally recognized, more women need to stick with their sports at a competitive level and to make that happen, they need highly visible and easily accessible role models — think Mia Hamm and her impact on girls soccer in the late 90s.
I would argue that we need more women on television, in the news, and in front of our young girls, not only to encourage the next generation of great athletes, but to begin to narrow the divide in how our nation regards men’s and women’s sports.
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