Rosenblum: The seats that must be filled

Jonah Rosenblum

When I attended my first Northwestern women’s basketball game, I was struck not by the din, but the silence.

I would watch Noah, the Wildcats’ super fan who is never spotted without his trusty NU hard hat, dance around the empty stands. Sometimes there would be a sprinkling of student-athletes, who came to watch their friends play. Other times, it would just be Noah and I.

Unfortunately, the world of NU women’s sports is defined by a sea of empty seats and wallets. According to Adam Rittenberg, of ESPN’s Big Ten Blog, the Cats’ 11 women’s sports programs combined to lose more than $10 million last season, even though their combined expenses were just a fraction of what the football team spends in a given year. A good reason for those lost dollars is the empty benches I described above.

It’s too bad because the vast majority of NU students have no idea what they are missing out on. Take the Cats’ women’s basketball program for instance. The team is led by one of the most renowned coaches in the game in Joe McKeown, a man who led George Washington to the NCAA Tournament 15 times. He’s also an incredible recruiter. If you think Tre Demps is an impressive recruit, take a look at Morgan Jones. She was the ninth-ranked recruit in her class according to the ESPNU HoopGurlz rankings. The point is there’s something worth seeing in the Cats’ women’s sports teams, whether it’s the six-time national champion lacrosse team, the 13-time defending Big Ten Tournament champion women’s tennis team or a rapidly improving women’s basketball team.

There’s also something inherently warmer about the women’s game. The athletes are more grateful for your presence. You’re always guaranteed a front-row seat. And the coaches, in particular, appreciate the attention. At Big Ten Basketball Media Days, the majority of Big Ten women’s coaches thanked the media for being there and for all that they do to promote Big Ten women’s basketball. It’s hard to imagine Bill Carmody or Thad Motta echoing those sentiments.

Women’s sports still capture a lot of guff in our society. Much of my appreciation for the women’s game was built going to New York Liberty games with my mom. When I wore my Teresa Witherspoon shirtto school, I got made fun of for wearing a WNBA shirt. Years later, when I went to a WNBA playoff game by myself, I didn’t even bother telling anyone. It may have been just $10 and the best bargain in New York, but you’ll never get people to overcome their prejudice against women’s sports.

The classic argument is that men’s and women’s sports aren’t the same. Of course they’re not, but that doesn’t mean that both aren’t worth watching. For the true sports fan, who cares mainly for the game and little for the atmosphere, women’s sports have a lot to offer.

I encourage NU students to come out to Welsh-Ryan Arena for a women’s basketball game this winter. I think they would be pleasantly surprised by how much fun they had. My dad certainly was when I convinced him to come out for a game last year. His face was aglow as we talked about NU’s impressive comeback win versus Minnesota that day.

But somehow, I have a feeling it’s still going to be just Noah and me.

Sports editor Jonah Rosenblum is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]