​For fans of women’s sports, television can be a barren wasteland

MGN Online

Weekends during college basketball season usually are chock full of games on television to choose from. Last weekend, for example, there were six games on Friday, 37 on Saturday, and four on Sunday: a total of 47 games either on cable or regular television.

But just two women’s basketball games were televised, including Sunday’s Gophers-Rutgers two-overtimes game at Williams Arena. This despite the fact that there were 23 scheduled contests last weekend, and all but one featured top-25-ranked clubs.

ESPN announced last fall that over 250 WBB games were scheduled on its eight channels, as well as 2,200-plus games on its sports streaming service. (Tip: If a “+” is next to a channel name, there is an additional cost to watch such games.) There are at least nine networks that show women’s hoops: ESPN, ESPN2, CBS Sports Network, Fox Sports, Big Ten Network (BTN), Pac-12 Network, SECN, ACCN, and the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network.

This week alone there are 46 men’s basketball telecasts and 57 more scheduled for this weekend—almost 100 games to choose from. But you’ll need a search party to find a women’s basketball game to watch. 

Sadly, this gender imbalance in hoops telecasts isn’t new. “Women aren’t given the same opportunities to have exposure,” SUNY-Cortland Assistant Sport Management Professor Lindsey Darvin has declared. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Lindsey Darvin Professor Lindsey Darvin

Darvin is a huge Rutgers sports fan. “I find it very interesting that when they put the women’s games on, they are usually on the BTN Plus, and I have to pay an extra $15 bucks a month to watch them in addition to my cable subscription.”

If you’re a men’s hoops lover, it’s a virtual basketball nirvana. No matter the day of the week, odds are that you’ll find a game on any number of cable channels and a ton more on streaming. But it still remains a barren wasteland for women’s basketball fans, or for that matter women’s athletics in general, the professor and women’s sports advocate continued.

“People haven’t had a chance to watch women’s sports at the same rate as men,” Darvin noted. “People [can] watch lower level [men’s] basketball because it is actually available to see.” 

It’s been proven that if women’s sports are available, people will watch them. BTN officials in December said that women’s volleyball games were the network’s third-most-watched sport behind football and men’s basketball. Two Minnesota-Nebraska contests were among nine of the top 10 most viewed matches in BTN history. 

BTN upped its volleyball schedule over the past five years, airing more Saturday matches after football games. It launched Wednesday doubleheaders and aired its first live pregame show this past season.

“If women’s sports were more readily available…more people would [watch them],” Darvin pointed out. “I think it is an untapped market.”

Who or what is to blame? Not the 37-word Title IX, for which compliance means equal education opportunities for both men and women or lose federal funding, but not ensuring equal television coverage between women’s and men’s sports. 

The NCAA? College sport’s governing body, although it makes millions of dollars on men’s basketball, doesn’t have the power to demand for-profit television networks provide equal coverage along gender lines.

Women’s sports? “I do think…all the barriers women athletics face are still there,” Darvin surmised, including conscious and unconscious biases by mostly male sports execs. “It is a natural thing to think that men’s sports is the sport, and women are just coming in, that women came in after the fact.

“As we continue to see men in leadership and decision-making roles,” Darvin said, “we unfortunately will continue to see a lack of coverage or a lack of promotion of women’s sports.”