Though it might not be the biggest revenue sport, every Maryland fan had to well up with pride when the Maryland women’s lacrosse team won the national championship over Northwestern, 13-11. Meanwhile, we shrugged as the Duke men’s lacrosse team reached redemption with their championship win over Notre Dame. However, if you looked closely at the highlights, there were bigger differences to those games than just the teams playing in them. The NCAA once again showed a disregard for the supposed equality of men’s and women’s sports, skirting the spirit of decades of struggles for women’s presence in the sporting world. The immense talent of these women were overshadowed by circumstances beyond their control, and altogether avoidable.
Look closely at the highlights, and you will see the men’s championship being played out at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, in the heart of downtown Baltimore. It is the best venue for lacrosse, soccer, or football in the region, and makes any sporting event worthwhile. It is where Navy has played Army, and where the Ravens make their annual run at the playoffs. It was the absolute perfect place, in the heart of lacrosse country, to hold a Final Four. And the women? They were playing at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University, with the Towson Tigers end zone writing still on the field. They had simply chalked over a new set of lines, making it look like a messy high school field. From growing up in Towson, I can tell you that the only thing impressive about Johnny Unitas Stadium is the name. It has a capacity of 11,000, 60,000 less than M&T Bank Stadium. It is not in Baltimore City, it is not surrounded by attractions (unless you count a really large mall), and it is not a prime venue for anyone or any sport. And yet while the men were treated to the gem of the Mid-Atlantic, the women might as well have been in Frostburg.
I understand that the women’s game doesn’t draw the money that the men’s game does. But let’s be honest- the men’s final was almost empty, so what difference does it make whether they were at the better venue? Attendance wouldn’t change dramatically, so lord knows they are already losing money on that. Is TV revenue greater when a sporting event is held at a better venue? Since the viewers aren’t actually at the venue, I find that hard to believe. No, it is simply that the men’s Final Four is more marketable, and frankly… it has men playing, which is all that seems to matter in this case to the NCAA. Basketball is guilty of the same crime, but at least it tends to be at least close to equality. The women might get Indianapolis, the men could get Atlanta- generally slightly better markets, but no tremendous disparity. That could be because the women’s game is growing- it could also be growing because the women’s game has been given some of the respect and attention due to it by the NCAA.
But in basketball, TV revenues reign and the women don’t draw nearly the attention that the men do. But in lacrosse, no one is going to be winning over the Nielson ratings, and no networks are falling over each other to claim the TV rights. The women’s game did not advance decades after the men’s game like in basketball; the men didn’t get that much of a head start and don’t own that much more of the pie-the pie is too small for that. Instead, this comes down to one thing- the sex of the competitors. M&T Bank Stadium could have been rented for another day. It would have been easy to hold the women’s championship on one day and the men’s on the next, or even back-to-back on an afternoon the way the semifinals are held. But unfortunately the NCAA didn’t see the teams competing as worthy of sharing the same venue. So while the men played at a state-of-the-art, professional stadium, the women competed in a half-redecorated 11,000 seat college “stadium”.
I guess we haven’t come that far after all.