Do the Maryland Women Deserve More Coverage?
"Why does the less-than-stellar University of Maryland men's basketball team rate a 17-paragraph article on two pages, while the Lady Terps, who have had an outstanding season, are relegated to a four-paragraph box on Page D12? Once again, The Post makes clear its bias toward men's sports."
This was a letter to the editor from Mary C. Massey, published in The Post on March 7. It just as easily could have been published on March 7 of last year, or the year before, or the year before that. As long as I can remember, March Madness means, among other things, questions like this one printed on the letters page. I got one in my inbox just this morning, asking why there was no equivalent of the Feinstein/Kornheiser/Wilbon bracket analysis for the women's draw, even when you look at our women's bracket. But the issue isn't whether the media is or should be biased toward men's sports; the issue is how great that bias should be.
So is this the right spot to point out that the Maryland women won the ACC title, earned a top seed, and are national title contenders, while the Maryland men got shot off the floor by second-seeded Memphis?
"I love our men's team, but we're clearly doing better than they are," Marissa Coleman said last night, when I asked about the coverage disparity. "You know, we're used to it. We're used to women taking the back seat. You look at the ACC tournament, how well we did, and there was hardly any local TV stations or anybody there....We're used to it. We're gonna keep doing what we do. The media? That's for the fans to pay attention to, for them to keep up with. We're not worried about that; we're worried about getting championships."
Now look, we all know--players included--that this isn't exactly a controversial call. Sports bars fill with fans watching the men's tourney. Everyone in America, plus some Ukrainians, fills out a bracket. ESPNews covers it non-stop. And I'll also say that The Post has done tons of stuff with the Maryland women, including a massive above-the-fold photo on A1 today (after the Terps won big in the opening round last night), and the centerpiece story in today's sports section. Also, to get it out of the way, you'll note that I've written exactly zero words about women's basketball this season before last night. So I'm no front-line crusader for equal coverage, by any means.
All that being said, I was surprised by the media turnout for yesterday's first-round games in College Park. The Post had three writers in Philadelphia, all of whom wrote about the AU men's predictable opening-round loss, plus three more writers in Kansas City for the Maryland men. We had one writer in College Park to write about the Maryland women's' (more) predictable opening-round win, a game that was a Metro ride from the office. (That's not counting me, since I sort of went on a whim, and because I thought I could get some Web traffic out of it.)
"It is what it is," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said, in the perfect coach answer to the coverage question. "You read the paper, you watch SportsCenter. We're in a male-dominated society. I'm grateful for the coverage that we DO get, and we've gotten great coverage this year from The Post. We've had front-page articles. I think they've been really really good to us and the team and the program. I understand newspapers have a business. They've got to sell papers. If there was more coverage, maybe they wouldn't sell as much. I don't know."
(None of the Terps were going around campaigning for coverage; I was the one bringing it up.)
Even worse, the Baltimore Sun--which wrote a staff editorial asking why more people weren't cheering the Terps' ACC title--hasn't even covered the team all season, instead using Post writer Camille Powell's copy.
"Even down to our school newspaper, it's a pretty clear difference," Maryland's Drey Mingo told me. "But we just keep coming and working hard, and our fans support us, so that's a good thing."
For the record, we also get constant complaints about not covering, say, collegiate wrestling. But that one's easy: wrestlers don't consistently draw, and they're not on TV. The Terps women ARE on TV; Mike Patrick was there calling yesterday's games. As for attendance? Try an average of 8,805. The American men? Let's see, 1,933.
Or how about Web traffic? All the numbers are fairly modest, but when the Maryland women won the ACC title (on a Sunday), the story that day and the next got about 65 percent more Web traffic on our site than when the American men won the Patriot League (on a Friday), and about 185 percent more traffic than when the Mason men lost the CAA final (on a Monday). The former did not merit a column, but both of the latter did.
So I guess I do wonder why yesterday wasn't a bigger deal, why there were so many empty media chairs, and why Saturday's open media session attracted a tiny handful of local media members. Maybe it's because everyone knew top-seeded Maryland would roll over 16th-seeded Dartmouth. Maybe it's because the men's games were on at the same time. I also wonder why I stop paying attention to the Terps women until March every year, and then suddenly get all interested again once the tourney begins.
"It's a mannnnnn's world," Marah Strickland said with a laugh. "My brother [Marshall] played college basketball. I was a big fan of his. So being that I was a great fan of men's basketball and men's athletics, I just pray that one day it can be equal. I think that would be a great goal for us."
"We love our men's program, and we're all friends or whatever, but it's clear that the women's program is thriving," Emery Wallace said, leaving out the other side of that equation. "But the men are still getting all the fans and still getting all the coverage."
"The men's game has been around longer and has been popular longer," Coleman told me. "You come here, you're not gonna see somebody jumping over somebody [else] and dunking a ball. But Ive had many people come up to me and say that they never liked women's basketball, but they came and watched us play and now they're hooked. I think it just really takes coming to one game and being able to see how well we do play, and that it's not just this boring, fundamental game, that we DO make it exciting."
Several of the Terps said that their coverage has improved markedly in the past several years. They said they think that's a national trend, and that more kids on campus seem interested than before. If the Terps win another national championship, would the coverage change further? Would it even start to resemble that of the men?
"You know, that's a difficult question," Frese said. "It's improved. It's improved, greatly, since we've won the national championship. It's never gonna be equal to the men. I'm happy that it's improved, it definitely has done that. When you're successful and when you win, people want to read it and follow it. I get that."
My favorite answer to all of these questions probably came from Kristi Toliver. This shows you that men's stars and women's stars are, at heart, the same.
"Well, I don't read the paper, so you're asking the wrong person," she said. Zing!
"I try to stay away from all that stuff," she continued. "I think men's coverage in sports is obviously more than women's. It's on TV, the news, whatever. I think that's just an automatic. Do I think it should be like that? No, obviously. I'm a little biased maybe, but I think we have a great team, we're successful and we're fun to watch."
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