I've had a lot of time to think recently thanks to a lack of internet where I am currently, and after my exodus, I have come to a realization that I think you all should be privy to.
Back in March, I had the privilege of covering the Mid-American Women's Basketball Championship Tournament for this very site. A few things were immediately apparent: the seats were empty, and the interest was small.
I think there are a couple of reasons behind this. First of all, with a conference the size of the MAC it's hard to rent the Q out for very long and fans simply aren't willing to travel to see their women's team play. Secondly, the matchups for the women were scheduled at rather awkward times. One such game I covered ended at 1:35 p.m. On a week day. 1:35 P.M.! No wonder the seats were empty.
Women's sports can be very popular once you get a good fan base behind them. Take it from myself, as I'm currently sitting in a sold out hotel near Winnipeg's airport waiting for the USA women to play Sweden on Friday in the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The game on Monday attracted over 31,000 people to sell out Winnipeg Stadium to watch Team USA beat Australia 3-1. Most of those who came travelled over the border to see the game. The wait to get into Canada on 1-29 was three hours long. THREE HOURS LONG. FOR WOMEN'S SOCCER!!!
So what's a solution to this problem? Personally, I believe a good start would include removing the Women's Tournament from Quicken Loans Arena.
Before you burn me at the stake, hear me out. I'm not suggesting the men move out as well. The men's tournament is just fine in Cleveland, and the prime-time exposure is good for the conference when you look at it through the lens of television ratings and national exposure. My proposal is simply to move the start of the women's tourney up a week and hold the games on campus. Get the word out and you'll easily have four times more fans in the arena for a second round game then you'd have at the Q.
The excitement is there. Cha Sweeney and the Eastern Michigan Eagles were magnificent, leading to one of the best tournament runs I have ever seen, making it all the way to the championship from the first round. They lost to the Ohio Bobcats, who were a surprise team in their own right, owning the regular season and tournament when many had them middling in the conference. Ball State's Nathalie Fontaine, of Sweden, is a stone-cold assassin from just about anywhere in the court. Crystal Bradford had a stellar career at Central Michigan, setting many all-time records, and was a first-round WNBA draft pick for the Los Angeles Sparks this year.
Of course, women's basketball and women's soccer will never be as popular on the college stage, but there is definitely a potential audience to be reached here. The product that the women deliver on the court is just as good or sometimes even better than the men's product, and if promotions and scheduling are done correctly, large crowds will come out to cheer on their school during the regular season and the conference tourney. By playing the games during the day and not giving anyone a chance to reach the arena, the Mid-American Conference is robbing women's basketball from getting good crowds and a decent atmosphere.
If we really want women's sports to be big, we need full equality. We need to treat them like the men. Let's put them up on prime time. No more 11 am starts on a Thursday for a start. Who's with me here?