We need to level the playing field in women’s and men’s sports
March 22, 2023
There are six different pieces on a chess board, 32 in total. The most powerful is the queen. She has the best shot at putting an opponent to bed: checkmate. In her freedom to move vertically, horizontally and diagonally, she fights for the survival and victory of all others.
To have a piece so valuable also means risking the devastation of losing her. The ability of the queen to make or break the game is emblematic of a conversation taking over your TV, phone and headlines more and more every day.
Women’s sports, if maneuvered correctly, are the key to winning the game of equality.
The March Madness college basketball tournament is one bright side of the depressing weather we dread this time of year. The NCAA puts together two showcases, a women’s and a men’s competition. This, unsurprisingly, is where the issue begins.
For context, the first and second rounds of the 2022 women’s tournament had 216,890 fans in attendance, with TV viewership peaking at 5.91 million, according to an April 5, 2022 ESPN Press Room release.
It feels safe to assume this massive and growing interest would ensure appropriate funding for women’s teams and earn them a fair share of the spotlight. Instead, they were forced out of it.
That year, women’s and men’s teams competing in the quarterfinals included 10 public universities. Those 10 schools collectively spent 67% more, or $14.2 million more, on their men’s teams than their women’s teams.
North Carolina State University, for example, had a 126% spending disparity between their men’s and women’s teams during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, according to an April 1, 2022 USA Today article. That’s $2 million more in spending towards NC State men’s basketball.
You’d hope that with all those eyes on the NCAA, shortcuts wouldn’t be taken, treatment would be fair and equality would prevail. Instead, shortcomings were so blatant, it’s surprising the NCAA approved them at all.
Two years prior, in 2021, athletes called out the trays of buffet-style food given to male athletes versus individual containers of clearly lower-quality meals given to their female counterparts, pictured in a March 19, 2021 NPR article.
Gym facilities were the most representative of the disparity. A rack of 12 weights were provided for elite female athletes, compared to a massive weight room for the men’s teams, according to the NPR article.
This year’s March Madness tournament started on March 15, and you can’t help but wonder if the NCAA will make the same mistakes.
Senior Emma Utterback, a guard on the women’s basketball team, is averaging 14 points per game this season, according to the women’s team’s cumulative statistics. This average is slightly more than the highest PPG on the men’s team, with fifth-year guard Dylan Penn scoring 13.4 PPG, according to men’s team’s cumulative statistics.
The women’s team has also achieved their best regular season record in over 10 years, including 22 wins, six losses and a 14-game win streak, compared to the men’s team’s 20-10 record, according to both team’s cumulative statistics.
They then went on to win the American East Championship for the first time in 12 seasons, earning them a spot in the March Madness tournament, according to team History and Records.
Still, attendance at games fails to reflect this high-achieving performance.
If you’ve been to any UVM basketball games this year, it’s obvious how many more people show up to watch the men’s team. The difference is upsetting.
This season, the UVM women’s basketball team had a total attendance of 15,743, according to the women’s cumulative statistics. UVM men’s games, alternatively, brought in 33,119 attendees—two times the number of women’s basketball spectators—according to the men’s cumulative statistics.
The same patterns are obvious on the road to championships. The second round Duke-Michigan State men’s game of the 2022 tournament had 11.2 million viewers—nearly double what all games in the first and second rounds of the women’s tournament had, according to a March 2022 Sports Media Watch article.
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t just “how it is.”
When we compare media coverage of men’s and women’s sports in the U.S., we can see that audience numbers don’t appear out of thin air.
In 1989, women’s sports coverage totaled 5% of all airtime, according to a 2019 study published by Purdue University and the University of Southern California. Thirty years later, coverage of women’s sports has only increased by 0.4%.
“The media creates demand as much as it meets it,” said Purdue professor Cheryl Cooky, head of the study.
As long as we continue to stand by because the issue is “too big” and “unchanging,” women in sports will continue to be treated as secondary. Collegiate and professional female athletes are being sent to the wild with no survival kit. Now is the time to stick it to the man.
Marketing of women’s sports is a small but impactful area of inequality that needs to be addressed. We’ve all seen it—the “Lady” or “W” that’s been tacked on to men’s sports to indicate that this one is for the women. The NBA, MLS, FIFA, and maybe even your high school, are all offenders.
Many major sports leagues and associations have determined male competition to be the default—the assumed focus. The NBA has the WNBA. The MLS has the NWSL. The FIFA World Cup has the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s evident that these additions are displayed as just another branch of the main show.
I do not ask that roles be reversed or that women become the priority, but that men’s and women’s sports are both labeled as such: men’s and women’s.
FuboTV is an example of a popular streaming platform fueling this inequality. In 2022, they touted over $1 billion in global annual revenue, closing the year with nearly 1.5 million subscribers and $984 million in revenue in North America alone, according to a Feb. 27 FuboTV article.
Bringing in this much profit and this many spectators comes with a responsibility to advertise fairly.
It takes a few seconds of scrolling through FuboTV’s live collegiate sports section to find where the platform has gone wrong. Categories with no gender assignment, like “College Basketball” and “College Soccer,” refer to men’s games, while women’s games are specifically labeled as such.
I know, it’s easy to think there are much bigger fish to fry than semantics. However, if we’re honest about gender equality, we have few other options to focus on. Starting small, putting pressure on the decision-makers and compelling others to join in is the name of the game.
If you’re into sports, get into UVM women’s sports. If you aren’t, don’t brush it off too quickly. Put a women’s game on in the background of whatever you do in your dorm room or on the CATS Bus to get through your ride a little more easily. Believe me, collegiate women’s teams are much more appreciative of your views than Netflix is.
Or, better yet, actually go to the games. Tickets are free for students and every attendee counts.
The hope of female athletes and their supporters is not that they are watched more, fed better or funded greater than their male counterparts. The hope is just that they are deservedly respected with equal enthusiasm.
If you consider yourself a fan of equality, watch women’s sports.