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By Gary Brown
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.
To some in Division III, the GLIAC’s idea of rotating the start times annually for men and women is not necessarily new. The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the New England Small College Athletic Conference and the University Athletic Association are among several Division III leagues that already use this system in basketball and other sports in which the men’s and women’s teams play twin bills.
Other conferences employ a midseason rotation. The North Atlantic Conference, for example, has its men’s teams play first in January and the women first in February. That order flip-flops annually. “It works,” said NAC Commissioner Julie Muller.
But the fact that the GLIAC action came after a formal complaint was filed with the OCR adds a new twist. Conferences that aren’t currently rotating start times may consider doing so.
Del Malloy, commissioner of the New England Collegiate Conference and former women’s basketball coach at Division III Wheaton (Massachusetts), said his league plans to require members to come up with their own methods for ensuring equity in game times when the matter is discussed during conference meetings next week.
Donna Ledwin of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference said the matter will be a hot topic at her conference’s September athletics directors’ meeting.
As was the case in discussions within Division II’s GLIAC, opinions vary on whether the first or second game offers the optimal time slot. 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.
Malloy said he certainly preferred the opening game as a coach. But both he and Karner don’t have that problem on weekday games since both of their leagues employ a system that shares the opponents at different sites. In other words, if the Wisconsin-Stevens Point men are hosting Wisconsin-Oshkosh on a Tuesday night, the Lady Pointers are in Oshkosh the same night.
Malloy said that’s a cost-effective system that also has the student-athlete’s best interests as far as time demands in mind since doubleheaders could result in an eight- or nine-hour day for teams that would travel together.
Missed class time is another factor. Ledwin said her faculty athletics representatives raised the issue of alternating game times for men and women in soccer and basketball at their May meeting.
“Their concern was about a disproportionate number of women consistently missing classes because of playing first, regardless of whether they were home or away, just because of the times most classes are scheduled,” she said. “We work hard as a conference to alleviate missed class time in general, but we hadn’t focused on the gender inequity with doubleheaders.”
Attendance is another concern, though perhaps not the primary one. Karner said a number of the women’s programs in the WIAC draw just as well or better than their men’s counterparts. GLIAC Commissioner Dell Robinson pointed that out for his league as well, saying that the new rotation may end up highlighting some of the conference’s more prominent women’s programs.
Malloy said that in the end, the game-time factor is just one of many for schools doing the right thing and balancing all that goes into providing an equitable athletics experience for their student-athletes.
“We feel that in terms of gender equity, it is across the board,” he said. “Give the women the same budget as the men, give them the same amenities, make sure the coaches are being paid the same, provide equitable uniforms and athletic trainer coverage.
“It’s pretty easy to flip game times. It takes a greater commitment to do those other things.”