March Madness is typically reserved for collegiate basketball championships. While this year wasn’t any different, the women’s tournament was a challenge to find televised. CBS celebrated airing every round of the men’s tournament with their national coverage and even reserved a time slot for pre-game/post-game analysis. The women’s tournament on the other hand was a different story.
Not only did CBS air solely the men’s games, you could only find the women’s games on ESPN 2, or worse, ESPN U. AND, even if those channels covered the games, it was frequently on a show that moved back and forth between games, which meant that you could see portions of games but not always the whole game.
I understand that this probably came down to viewers. The men’s tournament drew huge live audiences, and women’s basketball historically isn’t as supported as the men’s game. The issue is, women’s basketball never will become as supported without visibility. Until viewers can consistently see strong, talented examples of female athletes, people will not be excited to follow the occasional championship game that makes ESPN’s main channel.
Ultimately, this becomes an issue of gender preference. Audiences prefer the men’s game because we celebrate the high-flying dunks, but other aspects that get viewers excited are applicable to the women’s game too. Women have razzle-dazzle dribbling and passing skills, and I have seen some women that can flat out shoot the lights out of a gym. My point is, female basketball players are marketable to a television audience, but sports fans are not ready to witness women as athletes first and women second. As soon as we flip the channel and see that it is women’s basketball, we are socialized to assume it will be soft and nothing spectacular will happen.
The 2011 tournament was not only spectacular, but it hosted one of the best women’s basketball players, potentially the best ever, in UCONN’s Maya Moore. President Obama was even singing her praises. Gonzaga’s guard Courtney Vandersloot broke the points/assist record as well, making her the only player, male or female, to score 2000 career points and 1000 career assists. NBA great assist man, John Stockton, was in the house that night to see it.
These players are not soft, they are certainly marketable, and audiences need to meet them. Covering their stories and generating conversation about them tells little girls that there is room for them to be great athletes too. The lack of coverage not only keeps women in sports in that circular pattern of lack of visibility, it also goes to suggest that men playing basketball is status quo and any woman that chooses to take up the sport is out of the norm.
Just a side thought: because this happens in a collegiate forum, I am curious how Title IX applies, if at all? There are probably some good arguments for both sides on this one.
Does that mean CBS should be responsible for exposing audiences to more female athletes in order to create a more egalitarian society? No. Well, yes, but not alone. All channels covering sports should. If CBS is going to air the men’s national collegiate basketball championship they should air the women’s championship. The decision not to do so was based on ratings, and the privilege to think it doesn’t matter. It matters probably more than anyone calling the shots at CBS Sports could’ve realized.
Photo from David Butler II/US Presswire