Monday, January 31, 2011

No BUtts in the seats and no comment from the coach

I appreciate a thoughtful piece of student sport journalism once in while; something that doesn't say "Title IX is reverse discrimination and men are now the underrepresented sex." The latter sentiment was actually one I read in response to the news the University of Delaware was cutting its men's track program.
Anyway, this piece is out of Boston University, which is currently the home of the number one hockey team in Hockey East. And it's not the men's team. The BU women's team is doing quite well this season. (Far better than my own UNH Wildcats. Sigh.) What's more impressive is that the women's team is new to the Hockey East scene. Not brand new. But less than 5-years old I believe. And they have zipped to the top of the contender list quite quickly. One might argue about depth in the women's game and it's true that other conferences have, in recent history, been stronger than Hockey East for the women, but the DI women are producing some great hockey overall and the names at the top of their respective leagues seem to change every few years as the sport grows at the youth level.
But I digress. The writer of "Girls vs Boys: Is a Goal Still A Goal for a BU Team?" does a good job questioning the lack of popularity of the team at a well known "hockey school." She even dug up attendance stats.
There are a lot of reasons for the lack of attendance. I won't go into all of them. But women's hockey generally does not get good attendance. I never buy tickets to women's games ahead of time. Because I don't have to. Sometimes, like when I go down to UConn to see a game, I don't have to buy tickets at all--it's free.
It's especially hard when it's a new team. UNH women get decent attendance. The hockey fans there are pretty savvy. They know the good rivalries, the history, etc. But the UNH program has a much longer history and has the benefit of being part of a "hockey school."
Promotion is also an issue. I don't know how well or what BU is doing in terms of promoting their women's team. But one could argue that a new team, a new women's team, needs more promotion than the men's team. Everyone knows about the men's team. They fill the seats; they sell out. They are one of the four teams that competes in arguably the most well-known collegiate hockey event, the Beanpot Tournament, every year. (There is a women's Beanpot too, by the way. It does not take place at the TD North Garden.)
My cursory examination of the schedule suggests that the women's ice hockey team is not getting prime time game slots. Most of their games are played mid-afternoon on the weekends. Not as easy to get fans during this time.
But the most disappointing thing that Lisa Dukart's article revealed was the "no comment" from BU women's coach Brian Durocher about the situation. Durocher clearly is an effective coach if you look at what he has done with the program in such a brief amount of time. He is a BU alum, a former assistant coach for the men's team. BU's keeping it in the family, which is fine. But Durocher must be adjusting to seeing a different side of the family dynamics now that he's sitting on the women's bench. It's likely a difficult position. Is he going to speak out against his employer and accuse BU of not offering enough promotional support? But can he really mark success when only a couple hundred people show up for games--at BU? A good coach the goal (I guess is the appropriate sports analogy here) for his players. Has Durocher done that? At the very least, now that he's part of women's sports, he needs to learn both some history (if he doesn't already know it) and how to answer address the issues that women's sports, women's ice hockey in particular, face.

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