From Parity to Parody

by Fred Schwarz

It has come to this: Federal bureaucrats are telling colleges when to start their basketball games:

A recent Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action to reverse the order of its men’s and women’s basketball games during conference doubleheaders this year in response to an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is generating attention from other conferences.

Many colleges schedule men’s and women’s basketball games as doubleheaders, often using a “ladies first” policy in which the women’s game starts at, say, 5:00 and the men’s game at 7:30. Patriarchy! Oppression! Somebody filed a complaint about this and, as often happens, no formal ruling was necessary; a mere inquiry from Washington was enough to make colleges scurry to eradicate the dreaded curse of game-time discrimination.

One complicating factor is that there’s no consensus on whether playing first or second is better:

In its inquiry, the OCR cited a complaint filed against the GLIAC stating that scheduling the women’s games first made them appear as “warm-up” contests for the men’s games. While not necessarily agreeing with that assessment, the OCR nonetheless reasoned that each gender ought to have equitable opportunities to have its games seen, which leads some to believe that games close to the dinner hour may not be desired.

But a sampling of Division III members reveals some sentiment for the lead-off spot. Even though “prime time” is often viewed as the nightcap in a doubleheader, many coaches and administrators from a logistics perspective like the certainty of the opening game.

WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner said coaches in his league prefer Game 1 because they can base their pregame routine on a known time as opposed to approximating when Game 2 will begin.

Other factors include missed afternoon or evening classes on weekdays, and the wish to have the more popular team (which in some cases is the women) play at a time when more fans can attend. Some schools and conferences ensure equity by scheduling women-first half the time and men-first the other half, though this can cause confusion among fans who do not read the schedule carefully.

Admittedly, game times are not a trivial matter, but with so many factors involved, the decision should be made at the school or conference level, instead of being imposed from Washington. Yet the DoE has a big civil-rights bureaucracy, and they have to find something to do. And so, as so often happens, a reform movement starts out slaying dragons, and decades later is reduced to pulling the wings off flies.

(Hat tip: Women’s Hoops Blog.)

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