Monday, April 9, 2007

Frozen 4 coverage reveals sad trend

In case you haven’t heard, the Wisconsin women’s college hockey team won its second consecutive NCAA title. Badgers goalie Jessie Vetter stopped 32 shots for a 3-0 victory over Minnesota in the championship game.

Sadly, most sports fans did not know this. As I mentioned last month, women’s sports are merely a second thought to most sports editors (see “Frozen Four gets frigid reception in most sports departments” under commentary on this blog). That became even clearer this weekend when another Big Ten team (Michigan State) won the men’s college hockey title in St. Louis., and devoted considerably more space to the Spartans winning their second title in 21 years than they had to Wisconsin’s winning its second title in a row last month.

The Badgers posted the better record (36-1-4), but Michigan State (29-11-2) scored more coverage from national media outlets. We’ll see how much space USA Today devotes in tomorrow’s editions, but bet on more than the five graphs they buried on page 10 last month, especially if the 700-plus word online story by Andy Gardiner is any indication.

CBS Sportsline posted a game story and a column by veteran columnist Dennis Dodd, both well done. ESPN rolled out senior coordinator David Albright for a nice 1,000-plus word piece that focused on fourth-line winger Chris Lawrence. In addition, ESPN has an index of game stories and previews from the Frozen Four, along with a photo gallery and a lengthy list of stories from regional tournaments. As always, ESPN does a terrific job covering a sports event. But even ESPN dropped the ball (or the puck?) when it comes to equitably covering men’s and women’s sports.

Yes, yes. Men’s college hockey has a bigger following – or so it seems based upon the coverage. I’ve heard the arguments against wasting space on female athletics in more than a few news rooms. (I must confess: Years ago, I was among those fighting such coverage.) But how can women’s hockey build up a following if nobody knows about it? Why not also send these talented sports writers to the women’s Frozen Four? The major media outlets should rethink how they cover women’s sports before somebody steps in and does it for them.

Not sure if having daughters or gaining experience covering other women’s sports have changed my mind, but I do believe women’s sports deserve more coverage – not just because more female readers are heading to sports sections or because many more fathers are coaching and pushing daughters in sports. But because, frankly, some women’s sports are pretty damned entertaining. That’s what nearly two million viewers who turned in to see the NCAA women's basketball semifinal between Tennessee and North Carolina thought last week – and that was about double the viewers from an NHL Stanley Cup final game in 2006 and a higher rating than some NBA games receive.

I’m not professing the NCAA women’s Frozen Four deserves as many inches online or the same prominence on the front pages of newspapers, but it certainly deserves more coverage than it has received. And, who knows? Perhaps, if ESPN and other major media outlets give the sport the big-time treatment they gave the men, the sport will grow as women’s basketball has. More readers for news outlets in this day of declining readership? That’s just crazy talk, I guess.


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