On Thursday, March 1, the Wellesley Centers for Women hosted a lunchtime talk discussing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Women’s Basketball and the issues of gender, equality and profitability. Among the distinguished speakers on the panel were Wellesley’s Director of Athletics Bridget Belgiovine and Laura McGeary ’19, a member of Wellesley’s basketball team. Other speakers included Georgia Hall, associate director of Wellesley Centers for Women, and Laura Pappano, a prominent journalist and author of the book “Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports.”
The discussion began with McGeary outlining the history of women’s basketball and where the sport stands in contemporary society. She explained that the main difference between men and women’s basketball is the parity amongst women’s teams due to the fact that most female student-athletes remain in school for four years, whereas the elite men often opt to enter the NBA draft after just one year of college. This allows the women’s teams to stay consistent for a longer period of time, creating predictable patterns in terms of team talent and which team will likely fare well in the annual NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament, colloquially referred to as March Madness. The men’s tournament, however, is often riddled with upsets, McGeary said, which is an attractive feature to fans. She explained that her knowledge of this topic comes from her experience in working with the National Institute on Out-Of-School Time, an institute at Wellesley Centers for Women that focuses on children’s time outside the school setting, and from her love of basketball. “I am happy to have this opportunity to speak on this topic and use my research and own practice of the sport. I am grateful for the opportunities women have in sports, and Wellesley does a good job of giving us that,” she said.
The talk also touched on the topic of women in sports administration and coaching roles across the NCAA. In Division III athletics for the 2017-18 academic year, 45.7 percent of head coaches for female teams are female. Belgiovine revealed that since Title IX, which was intended to increase access and participation for women in athletics, was enacted in 1972, the number of women acting as head coaches for women’s teams has rapidly declined, and in turn, men have filled over half of these positions. Belgiovine explained that this phenomenon is due to the recent increase in profit and salaries for these jobs. These lucrative opportunities are usually handed to men.
The panel also provided the audience with a few tips for a successful March Madness tournament bracket. The main factors to consider, according to the panelists, are the teams’ season win-loss percentage, season scoring margin and tournament seed. The combination of these three factors together is the greatest predictor of which team will go far in the tournament. Some teams that are currently predicted to do well are Baylor University, Mississippi State University, University of Connecticut, University of Louisville and University of Notre Dame. As the panelists pointed out, the women’s bracket is far more predictable than the men’s.
The lecture was attended by a large crowd who seemed to enjoy the discussion and the questions that were raised. Madi Bianchi ’18, a member of Wellesley’s softball team, said, “Laura McGeary was a really good presenter, and the information on women in administrative positions was interesting because that’s what I’m trying to go into.” Overall, the talk was informative and raised awareness of issues within NCAA women’s basketball.