Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Column: Women's sports deserve better; I'm not just talking about a weight room

March 20, 2021

Spartans win against Purdue on Feb. 21, 2021. 

I have to admit, I’m new to the party.

Until 2019, I wasn’t an avid consumer of women’s sports. Not because I was that type of guy named Brad who is a finance major trying to tell you in class that women’s sports aren’t fun to watch or that they cannot be paid equally because they aren’t making as much money — but I was someone who simply wasn’t exposed to it.

I always tuned into the United States women’s soccer team every four years when they made runs in the World Cup. In 2019 during their dominant and historic run through the tournament, I came to a realization as Megan Rapinoe raised her arms in the air in defiance.

Women in sports deserve better.

This year as The State News’ Michigan State’s women’s basketball beat writer only cemented that belief. Being a part of one of the best seasons in Big Ten women’s basketball will do that to you.

Being able to watch some of the conference’s biggest stars this season has been a privilege, whether it was Maryland’s dynamic duo of Diamond Miller and Ashley Owusu, Iowa’s freshman phenom Caitlin Clark, the seasoned veteran Naz Hillmon dropping 50 on her rival Ohio State or Michigan State’s Nia Clouden putting the team on her back and scoring 30 on Indiana — 27 in the second half — when her team needed it most in the Big Ten Tournament.

That’s not even mentioning the three other teams from the Big Ten who also made the tournament this year.

However, you may have missed all of that because you weren’t aware like many. 

As Michigan and Ohio State men’s basketball was getting ready for one of the biggest games of the year in men’s college hoops, there was another game perhaps of even larger significance brewing just down the road.

It was Michigan and Ohio State women’s basketball.

Just weeks after Hillmon scored 50 on Ohio State, the two teams near the top of the Big Ten were set to face again, at the same time as the men’s game.

Fans of each school had to choose between the AP Top 5 matchup between the men or the star power of Hillmon and a top 25 matchup between two solid squads in the Big Ten. Ohio State was a team that had a self-imposed postseason ban looking to have a season-defining moment with a season sweep of their rival.

Michigan fans, don’t tell me you’re not salivating over the dream of an Ohio State self-imposed postseason ban for their football or men’s basketball team.

The problem is, this isn’t the only time this happens, because it happens often. Just look at this year’s Big Ten Tournament for the women, which occurred at the same time as the men’s tournament for the first time since I can remember.

While scheduling hasn’t been easy for schools and the Big Ten, things like this are so easily avoidable, just like the NCAA’s current debacle as they were exposed for their blatant disregard, or at the very least ignorance, of the way they were treating the men’s and women’s tournament.

“There's plenty of money to go around,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “They should invest in women, and they should invest in it the same way they do the men when it comes to postseason championships.”

Amen, Coach.

With a clear difference between the amenities provided, their equipment provided and even the food the women were given compared to the men, the NCAA exemplified everything that is wrong with the difference between men’s and women’s sports.

They’re simply not treated the same and for the people involved in women’s sports, it doesn't even come as a surprise, it’s just sad.

"It's just sad to see that many years later that the men still get treated a different way than the ladies,” Michigan State guard Janai Crooms said. “It just starts about little stuff like the weight room situation and just the gear situation ... it's just sad that we have to still go through this.”

Time and time again, women’s sports are cast aside. They’re told, ‘Nobody cares,’ or ‘It’s not interesting.’

At the end of the day, it just isn’t true.

The same storylines that make March special for the basketball world are still very much what creates an amazing tournament for the women each year.

They still have the great star matchups like a potential matchup between Iowa’s Clark and Connecticut's Paige Bueckers in the Sweet Sixteen. The tournament still has the potential for Cinderella’s, even familiar ones to the men’s crowd like Florida Gulf Coast, who I think is going to stun Michigan in the first round. It even has buzzer-beaters, just ask Tory Ozment.

What I ask of you is to just tune in to the women’s tournament and women's sports, give it a chance. Give it the chance that the NCAA and your classmate Brad won’t do. Promote it. Support it.

Women’s sports has so much to offer, but the world at large just has to tune in and invest in it.

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