By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Seemingly every night from the end of November through March, if you want to watch some college hoops, all you have to do is turn on ESPN or any other station within its family of networks to get your basketball itch scratched.
However, if you are looking for women’s college basketball, you might just have to look a little bit harder. Why is this?
According to Michael Graber, a sports cinematographer, the way that TV networks decide on which games to air ultimately comes down to money.
“In sports TV, the tail wags the dog. The money goes where the audience is,” Graber said in Kelly Wallace’s March 14 2016 article for CNN entitled “The Real March Madness: When will women’s teams get equal buzz?”
“Money will go to women’s sports as soon as an audience wants to watch women, so the best way to support women athletes is by attending women’s sports in the first place.”
If fans in the stands and wins on the scoreboard equal television appearances, then why are the Baylor Lady Bears not on national television more?
Head coach Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears are 24-2 overall, 13-1 in Big 12 play, and sit one game behind Texas for the conference lead. They have been ranked in the top 10 the entire season and have an average attendance of 6,088 at the Ferrell Center. The men average about 800 more people per contest, but, more people showed up to watch the Lady Bears set an NCAA record for margin of victory with a 140-32 win over Winthrop on Dec. 15 than showed up when the men’s team upset No. 4 Oregon on Nov. 15.
The Lady Bears also drew a larger crowd in their home opener against Houston Baptist University than the men did against Oral Roberts University.
And yet there is a great disparity between the number of women’s games on TV compared to the number of men’s games on TV.
The Lady Bears have played 10 games this season against ranked opponents. Only two of them, at Tennessee and a home game against Oklahoma, have been broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. Another three games, both games against West Virginia and a home game against Texas, which saw both teams enter with a combined 37-game winning streak, made it on Fox Sports networks.
This unbalanced distribution of games did not sit well with Mulkey after her team had just knocked off No. 9 UCLA 84-70 and before her team was about to travel to take on No. 3 Connecticut, with neither being broadcast on ESPN.
“I think that it’s really sad that ESPN did not pick up this game [UCLA], and for the most part it was a good game,” Mulkey said. “Thursday is going to be on a New York Station. We are playing two good teams in top 10, and neither game was picked up by ESPN.”
It wasn’t just the Baylor games that weren’t being picked up that upset Mulkey. It was other high quality women’s college basketball games as well.
“Ohio State just played South Carolina, and that game wasn’t picked up either,” Mulkey said. “But they did get Texas and Stanford on there.”
Even the University of Connecticut, which just won its 100th consecutive game on Monday by beating No. 6 South Carolina 66-55, has only had eight games this season nationally broadcast on ESPN. Even though many of its games have been available to stream via the Watch ESPN app for smart phones, tablets and computers.
When the season is all said and done, Baylor will have had five women’s basketball games air on ESPN this season. Comparatively, the men’s team, which has also risen through the rankings and sits at No. 6 right now, will have had 25 games, including all but one conference game, air on ESPN. The one conference game not airing will be the Bears’ showdown with Kansas, as it will air at noon Saturday on CBS.
This does not take into account the Phillips 66 Big 12 championship for the men. The conference tournament for the women will air on the Fox Sports networks, but ESPN does own the rights to the Women’s NCAA tournament.
The Lady Bears return to action at 5 p.m. Saturday against Oklahoma State in the Sic’Em for the Cure game at the Ferrell Center.
Baylor will have its last ESPN televised game at 8 p.m. Monday when the Lady Bears travel to Austin for a rematch against Texas.