Author: Dr. Marilyn McNeil
Clips Guest Commentary
Lopsided media coverage continues, and the growth of women’s basketball is being stifled as a result.
By Dr. Marilyn McNeil, Monmouth University AD, 3-25-12
Ed.-Dr. Marilyn McNeil is the Vice-President / Director of Athletics at Monmouth University in New Jersey. She has been AD for 18 years. Monmouth is a member of the D1 Northeast Conference. Dr. McNeil has an impressive basketball background. She chaired the NCAA D1 Women’s Basketball Committee last year, plus she was a college coach and player. More relevant to this Clips Guest Commentary, however, is Dr. McNeil’s staunch and consistent advocacy for women’s athletics. The Clips Editor has benefited many times through the years from Dr. McNeil’s patient counsel on gender equity, fairness and bipartisanship.
College Athletics Clips sent a ‘riveting’ email the other day that got my dander up….big time. Nick was talking about all the high profile people he saw at the March Madness basketball games. I was excited to read his exposé . . . . but not for long . . . . . because all the high profile people he was talking about were those at the tournament for just one gender….the men. I immediately emailed Nick back and asked him if he knew there was another tournament, with a smaller number of athletes who are equally driven, competitive, and talented and a group of administrators that are equally passionate and outstanding ‘keepers’ and promoters of the game.
He came back with some myths . . . . . still a ways to go; separate but not equal; chicken before egg: WBK needs better coverage/attention; etc.
So let’s do some myth busting! . . . .
Myth #1 (which deals with the chicken-before-the-egg question): whether women’s basketball can’t be popular until the media pays more/better attention to it . . . . or will the media not pay attention until the sport becomes more popular. But how can it get more popular without more media attention?
There seems to be no appetite for growth time. The media seems to think that women’s competitive athletics needs to be adults now, right now . . . . they get no time to mature! The mindset seems to be that if something is not terrific today, right now . . . . . then it’s not worth watching or talking about!
There are plenty of examples of long gestation periods for sports, leagues and other media-driven properties. Ask your men’s tournament pundits what the NCAA tournament looked like as far as audiences or media attention just 30- 40 years ago.
The NCAA has only been doing women’s basketball for 30 years . . . . . alongside the exponential growth of professional sports, television and media, audience exposure, and campus facility, marketing, and men’s athletics scholarship growth. The first NCAA men’s basketball champion was crowned in 1939. The first women’s champion in 1982, shortly after the NCAA filed suit against Title IX and the opportunity for women to compete in college athletics.
By the way, in order to gain success, the NFL and NBA have had over 50 years, the MLB over 100 years, the NHL, over 80 years to become established as media properties. Meanwhile, the WNBA and the WUSA have been around for just 15!
Myth #2: Women just aren’t interested in sport, so why do we bother?
Here’s why . . . . 52% of all gym members are women. 40% of all sport and activity participants are women. In 1972, one out of 27 girls participated in high school sports; today one in three. So girls and women are involved!
Why bother? . . . . . . Sport breaks the myths that women are weak, helpless, dependent and passive. Women in sport are strong, independent, assertive, competent and confident. Also, why not take care of your mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts, wives: as little as 75 minutes of brisk walking per week, can reduce breast cancer risk by 18%.
Sports participation has always helped prepare our young men for the highly competitive workplace . . . . . do we not want the same thing for our young women! Learning to work together, to cooperate, to know when to follow or to lead, and to return the next day after a loss and work harder . . . . are all valuable workplace attributes that should not be the purview of only half of our population.
Myth #3: Media knows best? But the media is making choices for what their market buyers want? And they don’t want information about women’s sports.
The media continues to be the gatekeepers of what is printed, talked about, written about, or viewed. Women’s sports received 1.6% of airtime and 2.7% of ticket time. 100% of all sport telecasts began with men’s sports, even when the sports were out of season. 72% of all airtime were about basketball, football, and baseball. All other sports, including many ‘other’ men’s sports are pushed to the margins.
Nobody’s suggesting 50-50 media here, but the percentages above are ridiculous.
Who is making those decisions? . . . . 14% of all football college SIDs are women; 21% of basketball; 10% of all college SIDs, 13% of sport department employees and 6% of AP sport editors. Many of the male writers and sports media management grew up in time when women playing sports were devalued. Very few in this profession saw and appreciated the great skill of today’s high school and college female athletes.
Oh, but women don’t play at the high level of men! That is why we can’t promote it and no one is interested?
Why do we compare? Sports for males have traditionally accommodated size differences effectively – wrestling, boxing, crew. The male who wins in the lightest weight class is no less a boxer than the heavyweight. He is admired for his skill and ability in a competitive arena against similar competition. No one would consider pitting him against the heavyweight. Why would we view the female athletes differently….why don’t we recognize her ability, skills and accomplishments rather than comparing her performance to that of the male. In fact, if size was the only factor, we would only have the strongest males compete in everything.
So what can we do to increase the audience for women’s basketball?
The NCAA women’s basketball committee has worked diligently on this issue. They try to place tourney qualified teams as close to home as possible, so fans can support their teams. Women’s fans are more fans of their home teams, than fans of the game. I would wager that was how the men’s game started.
We have talked about gaining some distance from the men’s tournament by changing dates of play. The gatekeepers are reluctant . . . . this needs to be continually challenged. The committee recognizes that the fan base is remarkably driven by senior citizens and young families….yet the tournament still has Sunday and Tuesday night games. That is dysfunctional!
And my last spear! Let’s quit talking about women’s sports as a subset of men’s sports. We don’t call our women’s teams the Lady Hawks. No one looks up in the sky and says ‘there flies a Lady Hawk’ or ‘there flies a gentleman hawk’. We are all hawks. Our women practice as hard, as long, and as intense as our men. Why do we demean women by making them a subset of the athletics male culture. Wake up and appreciate them for the excellence of their athletics endeavor just as we do the men!