With men’s basketball in the spotlight this season, fans and community express hope for increased attention to women’s basketball
Women’s basketball remains in the shadows with lower attendance and less buzz
The American University men’s basketball team had a great season this year, especially compared to seasons of the past. They had improved a previous 10-22 losing record in the 2021-2022 season to a winning 17-15 this season. Taking down the Georgetown Hoyas for the first time in 40 years, ending the Colgate Raiders’ 27 Patriot League game win streak and taking down No. 2 Navy in the Patriot League quarterfinals are all highlights of their newfound success this season.
“AU is a basketball school,” was a phrase used by some of AU’s student body in response to the men’s basketball team’s success this year. A buzz was alive around campus, with the men’s games seeing an increase in attention to reflect this.
But as men’s basketball improved their record this season, largely absent from the discourse of AU already being a “basketball school” was the women’s team. Last year, the women’s basketball team took home the Patriot League Championship and went to the March Madness tournament.
The women’s basketball team had also earned the same seeding as the men’s team, both ranked at No. 7 in the Patriot League.
“I’ve seen posts that say ‘We’re a basketball school now, the men are winning,’ but were we not a basketball school when we were winning our whole season? When we went to the March Madness tournament?” junior forward and captain of the women’s team Emily Johns said in an interview on The Eagle’s Play by Play podcast.
An Eagle review of athletic department ticket sales found that the women’s team welcomed an average of 389 fans per home game last year during their historic Patriot League champion season. Despite a losing 7-9 Patriot League record, the men’s team is averaging 1,065 fans per home game this season.
Even local news has been following the men’s season, including The Washington Post, which published an article by columnist John Feinstein titled, “The best men’s college basketball team in D.C.? It might be American.” Despite immense success in their 2021-2022 season, the women’s team did not receive the same media coverage outside of The Eagle, local outlets like WTOP and NBC4 and AU Athletics social media.
“I think what the men’s team has been able to do has been something that they should be proud of, the school should be proud of, the community should be proud of. I’m really happy for them because they’ve been through some rough years. But I would say it gets difficult,” said junior guard Kayla Henning on The Eagle’s Play by Play podcast.
On the AU Athletics Instagram profile, a ticket package is advertised for the men’s team’s games. There are no tickets advertised in any form for women’s basketball. Women’s tickets have a flat rate of $8 for adults, whereas the men’s ticket prices go up to $40, despite both teams playing in the same arena.
Associate Athletic Director for student-athlete well-being Katie Benoit wrote in an email to The Eagle, “American University Athletics annually establishes ticket pricing based on marketplace factors to position Eagles games as affordable, fan-friendly entertainment for alumni, friends and fans across the DC region. AU Athletics’ home contests are always free for AU students with a valid AU ID.”
“You can argue athletic ability, but most of it is going to have to do with the patriarchy in general. Men are always going to be seen as more entertaining,” Henning said.
Matt Delaney, a sophomore on the men’s basketball team felt similarly. “I believe the lack of respect [for women’s athletics] is rooted in the way that all of us grew up. In the 2000s, misogyny was very ‘normal’ among all media outlets and throughout society.”
Delaney referenced a sports equality controversy that occurred in 2020, where female athletes were provided with a smaller amount of equipment provided to the male athletes in the NCAA basketball tournament. “If the NCAA in 2020 was still acting in misogynistic ways … the example being set by the elites is wrong and will have an effect on all sports viewers.”
Fans of the women’s basketball team also referenced the difference in actual quality of the games and how non-attendees perceive the play.
“I know people say men’s games are more exciting, but women’s games are actual basketball with no theatrics. If you’re a fan of the sport, that’s what you want to see anyway,” said Morgan Brogden, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.
AU Athletics photographer Alexandra Ortiz Diaz, a sophomore in the School of Communication, takes pictures at both games.
“There is an obvious difference in the two games just based on the energy from the crowds. Having more fans at the men’s game gives their team more excitement and energy in important moments,” she said.
AU student fans at the men’s basketball game vs. Navy on Feb. 22 were asked if they also attended women’s basketball games. The common reason cited for not attending was a lack of promotion. This raises questions around the need for equal promotion for women’s sports at American University.
“I come mostly to men’s games, because they’re the ones with free pizza,” Nina Sanel, a freshman at American University said.
The men’s and women’s teams played the same seed at Bender Arena this season for the first round of the Patriot League tournament. The men’s team had a packed gym and a large Blue Crew showing with 1,019 attendees of the game. The women’s team had less than half of that, with 423 attendees.
But despite it all, the women’s team has adopted a head-down, keep-working mentality.
“You can’t let it get to you, you just have to keep playing your game,” Johns said.
This article was edited by Penelope Jennings and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Natasha LaChac