Last night I was able to watch some of the women’s NCAA basketball tournament (which was broadcast on ESPN.) I caught the second half of the Tennessee-Baylor game, and the first half of the Duke-Stanford game. Although neither team I was cheering for won their game (without any allegiances I cheer for the underdogs), I actually really enjoyed watching the women play. So much so that I’m willing to admit the following: before last night, I had never watched a single women’s basketball game.
Back when we started our bracket challenge for the women’s tournament, I emailed my family to get them to join in and fill out a bracket. “Ok, I did one,” said one of my brothers. “So long as you don’t make me watch the actual games. Go…Baylor?” I felt similarly indifferent when making my own picks: I knew nothing about collegiate women’s basketball and had no basis on which to pick my teams, other than “this school is ranked higher than that school” and “I have heard of this school.”
When I googled the phrase “who watches women’s basketball,” the following responses came up:
- I always try and can rarely get through 5 plays…it’s just soooo boring. All layups and jumpers. Will there ever b [sic] a woman who can do a REAL dunk????
- Why are valuable school resources used to fund this “sport”?
- Who watches women’s basketball besides fathers who wish they had sons and female gym teachers?
First of all, never read the comments on random sports forums unless you want to be really sad about America. Secondly, it turns out that the answer to this question is more people than you think. What do I mean by that? Well, for one, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a huge Stanford sports supporter, attended last night’s game between Duke and Stanford, and was shown on camera cheering for the players by name.
Rice has spent a ton of time since returning to Stanford as a professor supporting the athletic department, recruiting players, and mentoring students. She’s also a volunteer assistant coach for the women’s golf team, and lifts weights in the morning alongside student athletes. Rice is a great example of a high profile women’s sports fan. Although I don’t agree with her politically, I have great respect for the involvement she has with athletics on the Stanford campus (and the equal treatment she gives of the men’s and women’s teams.)
Who else is watching women’s basketball? I saw on Facebook the other day that my friend and former co-worker Chris had taken his young son to see two UConn women’s basketball games. When I asked him why he had decided to go, he responded:
My in-laws are obsessed. They scored free tickets through my father-in-law’s work and asked us to go. They had gotten four tickets leaving two available, and it was a no-brainer to bring [my son]. It was a great opportunity to bring him to a game so he can learn about the sport, and more so because he got to do so by watching one of the best women’s teams in the country.
So yes, based on one completely anecdotal story, I’m going to cheer fathers around the country who bring their sons to women’s sports games. (Clearly Chris can’t be the only one, right?)
And finally, returning to Stanford for a minute, another group of fans of women’s basketball is the men with whom they practice. No, really! Men!
It turns out that the scout squad that practices against the Stanford women’s team includes many men, as they need taller players to mimic the players on the opposing teams Stanford will face. Sometimes, these roles are filled by bench players from the Stanford women’s own team. But sometimes, especially when there are team injuries, these roles are played by male Stanford students who don’t play Varsity basketball but happen to be good (and tall) players. (Off the court, one of these players just happens to be a concert pianist. Awesome.)
Apparently “[w]omen’s teams across the country use men as practice players to challenge their players, providing matchups of size and strength, particularly for their inside players, and to round out practice sessions when players are out because of injury.” When asked why he started playing, one of the men on the scout squad stated “one of the reasons I started playing is I wanted to see how good they were. I know I was wondering if I was out there playing against them if they would kick my butt. And they kind of did.” The scout squad follows the team by watching their games on television, and keeping track of the box scores.
Even with these fans, though, at least half of the arena was empty last night for the regional final games. Now that I write this blog, had they been in New York, I definitely would have attended. But before this, probably not. I’m trying to be a better women’s sports fan, so step one was watching some of last night’s basketball. I’m taking suggestions on step two.