BIG EAST coaches reflect on lack of coverage in women’s sports

Marquette%27s+bench+cheering+during+the+BIG+EAST+Tournament+Championship+game+March+9.

Photo by Zach Bukowski

Marquette’s bench cheering during the BIG EAST Tournament Championship game March 9.

Women’s sports are underappreciated.

In fact, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, only 4% of the media’s sports coverage is on women’s sports, despite 40% of all sports participants being female.

“When 2 to 8% of all sports coverage is about women, … it’s flat out wrong,” DePaul women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno said. “I’m not saying 50-50, but come on, 2 to 8%? Let’s start with 25 (percent) or 30 (percent).”

Bruno said the media industry has been ignoring women’s sports for far too long.

“They say there’s not any interest, they’re short-staffed and that they don’t have enough space (in the newspaper) to talk about it,” Bruno said. “I’ve been fighting hard for this, and yet that’s what they end up saying.”

The lack of coverage and support also boils down to in-person attendance.

On average, the attendance for Marquette women’s basketball home games was approximately 1,700 per game last season. In comparison, the average attendance for each Marquette men’s basketball home game was around 15,000 last season. However, these numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story.

The women play at the Al McGuire Center, which only seats a maximum of 3,700 people, while the men play at Fiserv Forum, which features a seating capacity of approximately 17,000

Essentially this means the women are playing in front of about 43% capacity and the men are playing in front of about 88% capacity. Marquette women’s basketball head coach Megan Duffy said she has been proactive in garnering more fans by “selling”  them the product they put out on the court.

I’ll keep pitching and trying to sell like I do with recruiting, Duffy said. And you know, that’s using the sense of humor or giving them something maybe they don’t know maybe about myself or our team that gives others that connection with them.” 

Even with her efforts, Duffy said she knows not everyone will jump on board.

“There’s always going to be people that don’t want to support certain things, and it’s not just women’s basketball, it could be anything,” Duffy said. “We’re all about focusing our attention on those that appreciate the game and appreciate what these student-athletes are doing on a daily basis.” 

Bruno praised the leadership from the top brass of the BIG EAST conference, as they continue to push for more coverage of women’s sports.

“Val Ackerman is sitting here, former commissioner of the WNBA, fighting to answer the question. Jeanne (Lenti Ponsetto, former DePaul athletic director) is fighting to answer the question,” Bruno said. “It really comes down to a media that really don’t want to cover women’s basketball.”

Being weighed up against the NBA is one of the many challenges women’s basketball has to face.

“It’s hard for women because our game is compared to the greatest players in the NBA,” Bruno said. “It’s hard to juxtapose your game to that, but at the same time having no coverage or very little coverage … it’s a shame.”

While there is a contrast in style between the men’s and women’s game, Duffy said that shouldn’t determine superiority.

“We have a great game. It’s a little bit different than the men’s game, but that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse,” Duffy said. “We’ve been fighting this battle for a while and it’s maybe at the forefront a little bit more now as you see stuff with the WNBA and some of the injustice that is going on.” 

Duffy alluded to last season’s marquee matchups at home against Mississippi State and Northwestern as prime examples of how entertaining women’s basketball can be.

“If you know or ask anybody who has a sense about basketball, if they were in the (Al McGuire Center) during those games, they would tell you, ‘wow, that was just a quality two hours of my life and I want to come back and support (women’s basketball) more,’” Duffy said.

Despite what the numbers may say, Marquette sophomore guard Jordan King said she believes the support for women’s basketball is heading in the right direction.

“The attention around women’s sports is something that’s struggled over the years, and it’s definitely improved,” King said. “There’s been a steady increase in attention to women’s sports, and it can only keep going up from here. It’s been an uphill battle, but I’m just very excited to see where it continues to go.”

King said there’s still a long way to go regarding the coverage of women’s sports.

“Men’s sports have been so popular for so long and have had such a big following for so long,” King said. “It’s just going to take a while (for women’s sports) to get there.”

Redshirt senior forward Lauren Van Kluenen said she believes women’s basketball has always deserved more attention.

“That’s with any type of sport, too,” Van Kluenen said. “I think about all the (women) athletes that put in the time, the hard work, the dedication and everything. … They deserve to be seen.”

Matchups between Marquette and DePaul have received national recognition over the last several seasons thanks to the abundance of talent on display from both squads.

“Obviously, with those types of games, they’re amplified even greater, which is awesome for women’s basketball,” Van Kluenen said. “Those games are always a must-see, and maybe viewership needs to be better, but at the end of the day, we’re just going to keep grinding and keep getting better, and whoever wants to watch they’re going to watch.”

Over the years Marquette has seen the likes of Allazia Blockton, Erika Davenport, Amani Wilborn, Danielle King and most notably Natisha Hiedeman, who currently plays for Connecticut Sun in the WNBA. All five players scored at least 1,000 points during their time at MU.

“The support that we have from Marquette people all around the world … it’s great to see,” Van Kluenen said. “And obviously, would you always want more people? Yes, but it’s huge to have the support that we do have.” 

As to what she would say to the casual fan who may not support women’s basketball, Van Kluenen said she would suggest they dive deeper into the meaning of the game.

“You see the camaraderie, you see the teamwork, you see that it’s more than just about basketball,” Van Kluenen said. “It’s about how much fun we’re having and the game has taken us places that no one would have ever thought we would have been.”

This article was written by Tyler Peters. He can be reached at tyler.peters@marquette.edu or on Twitter @_tylerpeters_