At tournament time, little respect for women athletes

Clarkson’s Cayley Mercer, left, and Erica Howe celebrate after their 5-4 victory over Minnesota in an NCAA college hockey game in the finals of the women’s Frozen Four in Hamden, Conn., Sunday, March 23, 2014. Fred Beckham / AP

With college tournaments well underway, we’ve reached the usual point in the winter sports season where people point out the obvious: Women’s sports aren’t getting anywhere near the attention of the men.

It’s a credit to the local newspapers that the women’s high school basketball tournament over the weekend got generous coverage.

But for college sports, the media is a no-show.

“It’s disgraceful that no national or local television station televised the game for the National Championship,” Gov. Mark Dayton wrote on his Facebook page after watching the University of Minnesota women’s hockey squad lose to Clarkson for the NCAA championship yesterday. He says he had to watch via an NCAA computer feed.

“Demeaning,” is the word Buffalo News’ sportswriter Amy Moritz used.

It was just last month when we watched another epic battle between Canada and the United States. It was just a month ago when future student-athletes watched that matchup and were inspired to take their game to the next level. It was just a month ago when the sport of women’s hockey won over new fans. It was just a month ago when discussions about growing the game, both in North American and abroad, were exciting and full of potential.

In the wake of all that, not having the Women’s Frozen Four on television is deflating. And after ESPN announced yesterday unprecedented coverage of all rounds of the men’s hockey tournament, it’s a bit demeaning. It’s a missed opportunity.

Female basketball players in the NCAA tournament are doing a little bit better. ESPN is televising some games. The round of 32 was set yesterday, and few people noticed.

At the New York Times, some readers complained game recaps of the women’s action took fewer than 70 words.

“The women’s tournament just began on Saturday and the early rounds are rarely competitive,” deputy editor Sam Dolnick told the Times’ “public editor” (ombudsman). “There is generally not a great reader interest until the tournament heats up, and when it does, we’ll have reporters there.”

Margaret Sullivan, the public editor, noted the circular logic that accompanies the debate at this time of the year: Media coverage generates interest. If there’s no media coverage because of low interest, how, then will women get the exposure they deserve?

Does The Times need to bring the same resources to the women’s tournament as it does to the men’s? No, I don’t think so. But the level of interest has been disappointing so far. As a former high school and college hoops player myself (I sat the bench with considerable skill on Georgetown’s junior varsity team), I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing women’s coverage ramp up soon.