There is no question that women’s basketball is growing throughout the United States. New television contracts, more media coverage and larger crowds mark an uphill curve for this sport in most parts of the country.
Women’s basketball is experiencing pockets of growth throughout the land. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean. Firstly, the sport seems to be exploding in the Midwest. At Iowa State, for a game against a forgettable Penn program, the Cyclones drew almost 6,000 earlier this week and crowds of 10,000 or more have become common place in Ames, Iowa, over the last few years.
Secondly, the University of Minnesota drew 6,348 for an exhibition (that’s an exhibition!) match-up with North Dakota. The U of A has never had that large a crowd for any game! Meanwhile, the sport continues to be growing throughout the south. Texas drew over 11,000 for its game with Tennessee, and UConn, in the east, draws sellouts each night whether it plays in its 10,000-seat on-campus arena or the 16,000-seat Hartford Arena. There are more examples of teams that play before huge crowds every night too. New Mexico has drawn more than 10,000 fans for each of its two home games this season and even men’s basketball haven-Duke averaged nearly 6,000 fans per game last season.
However, the Far West seems to be lagging behind. Two glaring examples stared me in the face this week. Last night, UCLA pulled off a huge upset over No. 4 Texas. It was a tremendous win for the Bruins and for the Pac-10. Too bad only 1,525 saw the game at Pauley Pavilion. In another big win for the conference yesterday, No. 7 Stanford knocked off No. 12 Texas Tech. This contest between two of the nation’s top programs drew only 2,574 at the Cardinal’s temporary home, Santa Clara University. And the Wildcats saw this lack of fan interest face-to-face when the 24th-ranked team in the nation played in front of only 600 fans in their win at BYU on Saturday.
So, what gives? Why are fans so apathetic about women’s basketball in our region of the nation? Well, my instincts tell me there are two problems. First, westerners tend to be apathetic about a lot of things. Those we share our region with are laid back types who go with the flow. It is difficult to get a bandwagon moving in the old west. Secondly, there seems to be an overall tendency to see women’s sports as second best in the western region. At BYU for example, the game-day crew was late in setting up and showed very little respect for what was happening on the court. The media hardly covered the game and you could have heard a pin-drop in the arena. This attitude is also seen in poor media coverage. When is the last time you heard an ad for women’s basketball on the radio?
Having said all of this, I must commend the Arizona Daily Star for fine coverage of the Cats-Cougars game on Sunday and the McKale Center arena staff, which is second to none. But if women’s basketball is to really take off in the Far West, it may take a little while longer. For now, we’ll just need to sit back and enjoy its success in the rest of the nation.
See you on the radio!
Every Wildcat game can be heard live on AM 1330 KJLL.