The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has decided to reverse the order of their basketball doubleheaders this coming season. Doubleheaders within the conference have traditionally featured a women's game followed by a men's game. But after an anonymous complaint filed with OCR and the subsequent investigation, the conference has decided to reverse the order. The order of women first, men second, the complaint indicated, gave the impression that women's games were mere warm-up acts for the main attraction.
The GLIAC is not, however, the first conference to make such a change in its scheduling. Other conferences rotate annually or some switch in midseason. Whether such scheduling is legal has not been determined because it was a complaint that was filed--not a lawsuit.
Regardless, the situation raises some issues. Lest my critics think I am all "this is super duper awesome" when any action is taken in the name of gender equity in sports, I do worry.
Let me state first that I think women's games should be the main event an equal amount of the time if main event status/time has to be shared between men's teams and women's teams. While going to women's hockey games at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday afternoons was a pleasant distraction from all that reading I should have been doing in college, it would have been nice to have the team get the primetime Friday or Saturday slot more often.
But do I worry about what the effects will be if half the audience leaves after the men's game? I do. But then again I worry about the effects when female athletes see fans trickling in at the very end of their games clearly there to watch the men.
While I do believe that the promotion of women's sports is a major problem, we're not in Iowa* in terms of basketball (greater popularity among girls' basketball than boys') and the "if you build it they will come" mantra that was born there.** Building is good. Building it is great. But there is no magical realism moment where cars are lining up, headlights blazing in the night to get to women's basketball games. What I hope is that there will be no moments of red tail lights lined up heading away from arenas as the women start their games.
This article from the NCAA that discusses the other conferences who have already changed their schedules to give women's teams more primetime opportunities does not say what the effect has been on audience numbers. I do think that putting women's sports in the spotlight will change attitudes about female athletes--but not overnight; not even in one season I would suspect. I hope that conferences, administrators, fans, and even (especially?) detractors allow us some time. Because a lot more change has to happen, and it extends far beyond start times.
* anymore but I liked it when I was there and do go back to visit.
** okay it was technically born in Hollywood, but it was delivered in Iowa.