Network shoots for equality in coverage

In the next three years, the Big Ten Network plans to televise the same number of men’s and women’s events.

Jake Grovum

From Title IX to the WNBA, female athletes worked at equality for years.

While flagship sports such as football and men’s basketball might bring in the most money, Big Ten Network officials are looking to give equal coverage to sports that have not enjoyed years of attention.

Three years from now, the network plans to televise the same number of men’s and women’s sporting events.

The Gopher women’s basketball team is set to start its season tonight at Williams Arena and head coach Pam Borton said equal coverage can only benefit women’s basketball.

“It’s outstanding for them to be covering at least 50 games of women’s basketball,” she said. “There’s not another conference in the country where this many women’s basketball games are on national TV.”

While their game tonight will not be carried by the network, the Gopher women will perform for a national audience in 10 games this season.

“It’s a huge advantage for us to get more national exposure,” Borton said. “It’s just another step in the right direction for our program.”

Aside from exposure, Borton said increased coverage will be an advantage to recruiting as well.

“Kids from New Jersey Ö Colorado Ö California that come to Minnesota, their families and friends can watch them play,” she said.

Gopher junior guard Emily Fox said she agreed the network’s plan will benefit women’s basketball and the Gopher women’s program in general.

“The women’s game is changing and we have a lot to show the world,” she said. “I know some of our games have been on TV, but the goal is to have all of them on TV.”

Currently the network features roughly 230 men’s athletic events and 170 women’s events, but the upcoming years will see a gradual move toward equality, said Mark Silverman, Big Ten Network president.

“(When) you represent what the Big Ten is, it’s a lot more than putting some games on the air,” he said. “As there’s equality in terms of their athletics department, the goal is to have equality in the games on the air.”

While female athletes have struggled for years to gain the notoriety and attention of their male counterparts, Silverman said he doesn’t expect women’s sports to compete with high-profile sports.

“The numbers obviously aren’t going to be jumping off the charts, but that’s OK,” he said. “By exposing more people to this kind of programming, it’s the right thing to do.”

While advertising revenue for women’s events could be an issue, Silverman said the equality in coverage will open the door for companies to reach a different audience.

The nature of the Big Ten Network, Silverman added, lends itself to moving toward equality.

“By taking on this responsibility, it shows people that this is not a typical network,” he said. “You have a broader list of responsibilities than just putting the highest rating product on the air.”

Aside from women’s basketball, Tom Wistrcill, senior associate athletics director, said the network will allow for other sports at the University to gain exposure.

“We’ve had tremendous success in our women’s athletics programs,” he said. “A lot of them have not received the media coverage that we think they’re due.”

The equality in coverage will provide a platform to female athletes who, in the past, struggled to get exposure, journalism senior Hayley Webster said.

The coverage could also come along with financial gains for the University, Webster said.

“They’ll probably be looking for alumni dollars,” she said. “There are lots of successful female athletes from the ‘U’ in hockey and volleyball.”

While equality in coverage will be an immediate benefit for current female athletes, Webster said exposure could also motivate the next generation of female athletes.

“People in high school and middle school that want to play at the collegiate level, they’ll have someone to look up to,” she said. “They can see people from their high schools that made it to the Big Ten level; they can watch them, be like them and idolize them.”