Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What is parity?

It seems I have gone through March Madness without blogging about it. And it's not as if there haven't been plenty of opinions bandied about about "the women's game" and parity and excitement and promotion/publicity.
So on this--the morning of the final--I'll try to address some of these things.
In an entry from almost two weeks ago, this guy says that the "NCAA tournament soundly defeats parity." That there are "no surprises" in the women's game. That it's easy to bet on the women's tournament because it is so predictable. Ridiculous for two notable reasons. One, the controversy over seeding was pretty intense this year with Stanford not so subtly hinting that they deserved a #1 seed. And despite the lack of major upsets there were many games that I tuned in for--and others I know did as well--because the outcome was nowhere near a sure thing. Sure, it would have been highly unlikely that any team not seeded in the top 4 would go to Tampa. But, and here's my second point which I am a little hesitant to make because I do not like comparing the men's and the women's game, the men's final four was very predictably comprised of all four #1 seeds. No one seems to be crying about the lack of parity in the men's game.
I think it's pretty impressive that the women's game is where it's at--drawing crowds in person and on television, being discussed in editorials, developing rivalries (though I have to say this contention that the Summitt-Auriemma tiff is a sign that the women's game has made it doesn't seem like the most productive and helpful form of publicity). Remember, the men have built the popularity of their game over the course of a century. And while women's basketball has been around just as long--in varying versions--the limitations on the play and the coverage of the play and support of the game have only emerged in the recent years. Some cite 1972 when Title IX was passed as the beginning; some use 1978 when Title IX was supposed to be enforced. I put the date some time in the 1990s when schools started taking compliance a little more seriously after years and years of no pressure to do so.
The other issue that seems to be prominent this year is publicity. Christine Brennan has suggested that the Final Fours be combined in one site. And it seems others are on board. I have a healthy skepticism of the "separate isn't equal in women's sports" argument many are proffering. Jeff Jacobs at the Hartford Courant makes some compelling arguments and culls together those of others (including analyst Doris Burke, Auriemma, Donna Shalala, and network execs) about how this has worked in other venues (like professional tennis which has considered adding more co-ed tournaments outside the majors because they appeal to fans) and why it would work for intercollegiate basketball.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re parity: none are so blind as those who will not see it.

When the Baylor Lady Bears won the 2005 National Championship, some dismissed that evidence of parity as a "fluke." Yet. Kim Mulkey's team beat three #1 seeds on their way. (UNC, LSU, MSU) Parity.


I oppose having the men's and women's Final Fours in the same city. It was tried in 1989. The men played in Seattle and the women in nearby Tacoma (as in 1988). I attended the women's Final Four in 1988 and 1989.

As I recall, reporters covered one tournament or the other. The women didn't get increased press attention. Instead, they were an afterthought...except to their fans.