Gender controversy on the hardwood

Description: For my feature writing class, I wrote an article about the differences in popularity of men’s basketball and women’s basketball, specifically focused at the University of Oregon. To gain an inside perspective to the subject I interviewed former women’s basketball guard Jasmin Holliday and psychology professor Holly Arrow.

I was one of many fans anticipating the men’s basketball team taking on the No. 4-ranked Arizona Wildcats last season. I sat at my computer, waiting for the clock to strike 8 p.m. to guarantee my basketball ticket on “Yes! I got one!” I yelled to my roommate. She was not as fortunate, as the “SOLD OUT” sign popped up on the screen. It was game day just a few days later. The first step was scanning my student identification card by the Matthew Knight Arena staff to guarantee my entry. There was no turning back now. Two hours of pure excitement was about to begin. We walked through the tunnel that led to the student section. The fans were already screaming up a frenzy as the warm-up clock ran down to two minutes. The student section on the floor and behind the backboard were both filled with students packed shoulder to shoulder jumping up and down. Because of our “late” arrival, we were forced to the nosebleed seats. The Ducks cruised to a 70-66 win over the Wildcats that night and the arena echoed with screaming fans. Students rushed the court to celebrate with the Oregon players.

That night is easily one that I will not forget. However, I’ve never had a moment like that from watching women’s basketball. For an Oregon women’s basketball game, the atmosphere is quite different. One of the few women’s basketball games I’ve attended happened on the spur of the moment. With nothing else to do, my friend and I were bored and decided we should check out the women’s basketball game. We showed up at Matthew Knight Arena eight minutes into the first quarter and flashed our student identification cards at one staff member to prove our student status. We stopped by the concessions and got soda and nachos, with no reason to be in a rush. We walked under the same tunnel to enter the student section only to find very few students. The Pit Crew filled the floor student section, but showed no signs of excitement as they were sitting on the bleachers. The scoreboard showed that the Ducks were already down by about 15 points. Finding a seat was no problem — the student section behind the backboard was completely empty. Oregon was only an occasional scorer that night, which followed with a light clap from the crowd, similar to a clap you might hear at a golf match — a quiet, respectful clap. We ended up leaving at halftime, as our boredom continued with the exception of our steamy nacho.

These two diverse basketball experiences are nothing new to Oregon fans and players.

“I went to a lot of the Oregon men’s basketball games and I always wished we could get the same crowd to come to our games,” former Oregon women’s basketball player Jasmin Holliday said. “They would always have a bigger attendance at their games which would make their games livelier. My teammates and I would even have the announcer at the men’s games broadcast our upcoming games in hopes of getting some of their fans to come to our games as well.”

However, Holliday’s efforts didn’t quite pan out the way she hoped. There is a reputation among fans and the media that women’s basketball is not as entertaining as men’s basketball, causing Oregon’s team to have very few fans trickle into the 12,000-seat arena.

1, 789 was the average fan attendance in the 2012-13 Oregon women’s basketball season, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. To put that into perspective, the Oregon men’s basketball team had an average 7,630 fans in attendance in the 2012-13 season as they made a run in March Madness.

In addition, to attend a championship game, a men’s title game costs a fan about twice as much as it would for the fan to watch a women’s team get crowned champions. Therefore, men’s teams have three times as many fans at a championship game even though the fans must pay twice as much to enjoy a competitive basketball game.

University of Oregon psychology professor Holly Arrow believes that fans are culturally attracted to men competing against other men, similarly to the idea of war.

“One important characteristic in succeeding war is having a strong group dynamic. So in most cases, the most important military unit is not a single person, but a group of warriors. Throughout most of our revolutionary history and most contexts, that group was male,” she said. “There is a long history that we are still responding to even in other contexts that when we see groups of men organized and go forth to compete against another group of organized men, there’s something in us that says, ‘This is important,’ because in another setting it was important. I think there is this sort of inherit thing that groups of men gathering in a group competition seems like we ought to pay attention.”

War metaphors are often used in sporting events. For example, each team has a “fight song” and teams often compete in a game named the Civil War against a rival team.

Women’s basketball maintains the stigma that it is missing the entertainment factor. Yes, most women may not be able to complete a windmill on a fast break, but they hone the same fundamentals as men. However, there is no sign of a significant change in the future. Until that change occurs, women ballers will continue to hit the shiny hard wood with the same determination and passion to succeed in the game as men do. With the support of basketball fans, women may be able to gain the same respect and attention to find a larger sense of equality in the sports world.

“Lots of little girls play soccer, maybe more than little boys, and so people are definitely promoting it for their kids. Having that sports background probably also is a predictor. If you’re playing the sport as a child, you know the game better, you’re more interested. So, I think things will change. Culture can change, too,” Arrow said. “There could be… there should be a stronger fan base for women’s sports, and I suspect it might be less fickle and less prone to trash talking because it will have a strong element of the true appreciation of the sport rather than as some sort of metaphor for battle.”