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Column: The economics of women’s sports are not a reason to not support them

No one’s using this argument for non-revenue men’s sports…

Basketball - The Jordan Brand Classic 2018 Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s been weeks since Oregon’s Sedona Prince shared a viral video showing the disparities between the men’s and women’s weight rooms at their respective NCAA Basketball Tournaments. The short video sparked calls for action from celebrities and sports stars alike, who saw the variance as shameful.

Despite the swift and prominent backlash, there were still those poor souls in all the comments who didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with how the NCAA allocated its resources. Much of the commentary in defense of the NCAA centered on the perception that women’s sports don’t bring in revenue (they do), and therefore the NCAA was right in providing those teams with more limited resources given the economic return. To be clear, women’s basketball actually generates revenue - far more than the vast majority of both men’s and women’s sports.

The obvious response, which many on social media gave to these archaic comments, was that perhaps it was the lack of investment in the first place which led to the reduced revenue - essentially a chicken and egg type of scenario. The planning committee for the men’s tournament, for instance, had twice the budget of the women’s, and significantly more personnel involved in planning.

Of course the men’s tournament would generate greater revenue and be seen as more successful compared to the women’s tournament under these circumstances. It’s the same reason that startups who don’t get funding often have lower returns than others that are flush with cash from venture capital funds.

The reality is that we can all call bologna on this “economic” argument, both in the solidity of the argument and its irrelevance. Men’s lacrosse is not revenue generating, just as women’s field hockey, men’s tennis and women’s rowing do not bring in much in the way of money. No one is crying for Ohio State to drop its men’s lacrosse program. Let’s be real: there is tons of investment in facilities for programs that do not bring home any bacon whatsoever. Ohio State is often a leader in this category, having opened the Covelli Center in recent years to support both men’s and women’s non-revenue athletics. Stop acting like the goal is always money.

Back to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. After numerous (after the fact) apologies, promises of inquiries - including some directed by Congress - and a quickly improved weight room for the women’s teams, Stanford beat Arizona in the conclusion of a wildly entertaining Final Four weekend.

But as so often happens in the context of women’s sports, the story of what happened on the court (or the field or the rink) felt, in this case, secondary to the broader issues at play. In many ways, it often seems like the women at the center of these events win and then have the opportunity to use those wins as authority to advocate for betterment of women’s sports overall. Megan Rapinoe and the US Women’s National Team come to mind in the professional sphere, and their consistent work toward equal pay for women is almost as renowned as the success of their team on the field.

While many in the sports world have been quick to support the elevation of women’s athletics, using their own platforms to advocate for women (looking at you, Steph Curry), others have, as recently as last week, shown their total ignorance of the challenges facing women in sports - like Draymond Green.

Which brings us back to the NCAA. How rooted is sexism that the governing body of both men’s and women’s sports can’t even provide equal resources? Are they really so afraid of allowing women’s programs to get on the same level?

The reality is, if the appropriate investments were to be made, the average fan would probably be just as entertained by women’s basketball as men’s, but until recently, networks, just like the NCAA, often haven’t invested in the production to make it a great product to watch. While watching the Iowa vs. UConn basketball game in this year’s tournament, for example, it was hard to not be absorbed by the three-point shooting streaks from players on both sides.

This is a good thing. Naturally, having women’s basketball be good - both in terms of the on-court product and the ensuing production - is a driver for equality on and off the court. A better product in these areas means greater economic power, more investment and even greater revenue, creating a virtuous cycle.

In terms of equality, this year saw two Black female coaches coaching in the finals of the women’s tournament, yet another win to celebrate. While gender should not be something that has to match that of the sport one is coaching, there are a lot more female head coaches in women’s basketball than other sports, and elevation of this sport means greater credibility for these outstanding and diverse coaches. As an aside, for all those people making an argument that women can’t coach in the NFL because they’ve never played the game, please tell me more about the collective experience of male college coaches who have played women’s basketball?

In the college ranks, it’s been nearly 50 years since Title IX was enacted, with the purpose of bringing equality to activities that received federal funding. It’s now five decades later, and we’re still facing challenges in giving women’s programs equal footing. Perhaps what happened in this year’s tournament will be a motivator to keep moving in the right direction.

The arguments against supporting women in sports are as archaic as they would seem, and demonstrate the tremendous privilege that those critics leveraging those arguments have. I wonder what it would be like to simply have access to the equipment you need, without having to prove your own economic worth to get it.