Why Do the Men Always Get to Play First?

Perhaps you have been following this story. The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference–a conference whose membership includes schools such as Grand Valley State, Wayne State, Ohio Dominican, Hillsdale, and Northern Michigan–was accused of violating the civil rights of women athletes by making them always play the opening game in weekday evening basketball doubleheaders. The leadership of the conference responded to this complaint, which was relayed to them by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, by alternating from season to season the order in which men’s and women’s teams would play in doubleheaders.

Over at the Front Porch Republic, Darryl Hart offers some interesting insight on the matter. He concludes that whatever you decide to do about gender equality in basketball doubleheaders, you cannot “fool the American sports fan.” Hart writes:

…But not to be missed in this story is the recognition that no matter how much the government wants to empower and affirm everyone equally, you cannot fool the American sports fan. In a link within this story to a blog dedicated to Title IX comes a post from 2007 about the decision of Maryland high school athletic directors to schedule men’s games in doubleheaders before the women. Instead of starting the girls’ games at 5:00 pm with the boy’s game at 7:00, the district reversed the order only to receive complaints from the girls and their coaches. The reason for the complaint? — a mass exodus of fans at the conclusion of the boy’s contest. According to one athletic director affected by the revised scheduling, “If anyone has come to our gym to see a Tuesday basketball doubleheader, then you’ve seen 400 people leave before the beginning of the girls’ game.” “It’s absolutely embarrassing for the girls,” he explained. “I think they would prefer playing in front of a packed house during the third and fourth quarter instead of having an empty gym for the entire game.”

I happen to teach at a place–Messiah College— where the women’s basketball team is consistently ranked nationally and advances much farther than the men’s team in post-season NCAA play. Since I have two daughters, both of whom play hoops, we go to as many women’s games as we can. These games are always played as the first game in the evening doubleheader and we like it that way. We have an early dinner, get to the gym by 6:00, and have the girls home before bedtime. At Messiah College the crowd for the women’s game is often as large as the crowd for the men’s game.

But as a former basketball player, a current fan of both the men’s and women’s game, and a youth coach, I think Hart is probably right. Messiah is the exception to the rule. The men’s game is more popular than the women’s game and while I don’t have any problem with what the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is doing, I am not sure it will, in the long run, be the best for cultivating a fan base for the NCAA Division II women’s basketball.

What do you think?

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