League(s) of Their Own

If you had asked people over ten years ago to name a women’s hockey player they probably couldn’t do it; even with names like Julie Chu, Hailey Wickenhouser, Charline Labonte, and Angela Ruggeiro. None of these women are small names and all are extremely accomplished in their own right, but ten years ago women’s hockey wasn’t nearly as big or popular as it is right now.

There have been women who have played in men’s leagues, who have joined them in tryouts, exhibition games, and practices. Shannon Szabados, Hilary Knight, and Manon Rhéaume just to name a few. Even though Knight is one of the best women hockey players in the game, she will probably never be seen in the starting lineup for an NHL game. While Szabados did play in a men’s league it was the lower-tiered SPHL. And Rhéaume just played in one period of one exhibition game in 1992 and then another one in 1993. All these women are Olympic medalists and have done so much for the game.

But times are different now. There have been no women in exhibition games or NHL practices for a while now. In North America, there’s not many women playing in men’s leagues. It sounds discouraging at first, the fact that theses women have nowhere to play.

Until you remember there is not one, but two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League.

The CWHL just completed its tenth season where the Les Canadiennes took home the Clarkson Cup after making the finals three years in a row and not winning. The Canadiennes team includes a few names like Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, and Julie Chu. The CWHL All-Star game was held at the Air Canada Centre with almost seven thousand fans and the CWHL Clarkson Cup Final was expected to draw almost four thousand fans.

In the spring I went to the NCAA Men’s Hockey Regionals in Cincinnati where there were probably a few thousand people, if that. When people say women’s hockey doesn’t sell they are lying to you.

The CWHL, starting next season, will have a new team in China that will be owned by the Kunlun Red Star hockey club of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kelli Stack, Noora Räty, and Zoe Hickel will be paid as “Sports Ambassadors”. There is no information yet if all players in the CWHL will be paid as hockey players, although the goal was to pay their players this coming season. We’ll have to wait and see what the numbers are later this summer or fall.

In the United States there is the National Women’s Hockey League that a few months ago saw its second season finish with the crowning of the Buffalo Beauts as Isobel Cup Champions. The Beauts were the underdog three seed, defeating the New York Riveters before completing the upset against the undisputed number one seed Boston Pride.

The Beauts have a few names from the United States Women’s National Team that might sound familiar; Megan Bozek, Emily Pfalzer, and Brianne McLaughlin, who made sixty saves in the Isobel Cup Final.

While the NWHL is fairly new and still growing, there’s lots of reason to think that it will be growing even more. Director of the NWHLPA, Anya Battaglino, said, “Pittsburgh is such a strong place for women’s hockey. And there are so many places that could substantiate a women’s team and continue to help grow and develop the game.” Making it seem like Pittsburgh is next on the NWHL’s radar, although Commissioner Dani Rylan said the league would not add an expansion team until the 2018-2019 season, so after the next up coming season.

In February, the NWHL had their All-Star Game in Pittsburgh! I was actually able to go with my fiancé and one of our friends and it was a great time. They had the skills competition which was lots of fun and then an autograph session on Saturday, then on Sunday was the actual game. Tickets for the All-Star Game were sold out in advance and it got very loud inside the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

There weren’t seven thousand people there, but for a league in only its second season there were lots of people there from all ages and genders.

These leagues are just the beginning for women’s hockey in North America. These leagues will only open the door to thousand more women hockey players graduating from college who wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play otherwise. Non-National Team players are getting publicity and popularity that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The women in these leagues also set up their own skills camps during the summer where they help young girls develop. Women’s hockey is growing, not just professionally, but from top to bottom.

These leagues are exactly what the hockey world needs right now to show that every kid who plays hockey, not just the boys, can become a professional hockey player.

We don’t need women playing in men’s leagues, although if they want to that’s perfectly okay, to show that these women can flat out play. We need leagues of their own.

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Hey NCAA, Women’s Hockey is Still Hockey

Almost a week ago the NCAA Ice Hockey Twitter account tweeted asking how they can make the account better. They were probably expecting answers that included stats, standings, and general Twitter hijinks. What they got instead was a discussion that spread throughout the hockey Twitter world, especially among those who cover women’s (college) hockey.

In a thread by Nicole Haase, she brings up many points on how the NCAA Ice Hockey Twitter account continually disregards the women. One of the biggest points was how none of their graphics ever include the women. This tweet celebrates the seniors, but not one of the pictures used is any of the women. Do you know how many amazing senior women players there were at the time? They could’ve used Patty Kazmaier winner Ann-Renée Desbiens or finalist Lara Stalder. One of the main complainants when it comes to women’s hockey is that women don’t get nearly the same level of exposure. Just putting a couple women on a graphic makes a difference; not only does it share the love for the women players and the game, it puts the two on equal footing and are shown as equals in hockey.

The NCAA Ice Hockey Twitter also only tweeted about the Women’s Frozen Four final twice. One to announce the final was on TV. The second to announce Clarkson as the champions. The Men’s Frozen Four final was livetweeted. According to Twitter user Er N Space Museum the Men’s Frozen Four averaged 50 tweets a game, while the Women’s Frozen Four averaged .50 a game. This ties into the idea of marketing and exposure, how are people suppose to get interested in women’s college hockey if the official NCAA hockey twitter only tweets about it when only something major happens? People want to see more women’s hockey, just look at the replies to the original tweet where the NCAA asked how they could make the account better.

People say that people don’t care about women’s hockey, that no one wants to see about it, but if there’s leagues, articles, blogs about it people flock to them. The Ice Garden on SBNation has over two thousand followers on Twitter and they just created the site last year. The NWHL has over twenty-five thousand followers and the CWHL has over sixteen thousand. If people keep seeing it on their dashboard, by a retweet or if they follow the account – like the NCAA account where they aren’t expecting women’s hockey – they’ll take an interest in it. It’s exactly how I got interested in hockey to begin with.

It’s not impossible to ask that the NCAA Ice Hockey account tweet more about women’s hockey, tweet it on the same level as the men’s and more followers will come. Even if more followers don’t come, they still need to be tweeting about women’s hockey, because they aren’t just an account that covers men’s.

If the NCAA prides itself on equality, they need to do a better job of showing it.

Court Order

It’s a tale as old as time, women being given less than men and being told to be happy that they’re getting anything at all. The University of Cincinnati’s women’s basketball team is being told that after the University decided that for next year the women’s basketball team would be playing at St. Ursula, a high school, while Fifth Third Arena is undergoing renovations. The UC’s men’s basketball team will be playing at Northern Kentucky University. St. Ursula holds around one thousand people, while NKU holds around four thousand and is a Division 1 college. UC Athletic Director Mike Bohn said, ““We believe we can create a competitive advantage in there based on the size and setup. It’s a facility that is close to campus and as least intrusive as possible.”” This is not a new concept, in fact we can go back to the early 1900s to see this in action: “Indeed, the first generation of women’s gym teachers claimed that sports had to be segregated by gender because only under their watchful eyes could women be prevented from “loss of sexual control” and “emotional stimulation.” (Zirin 147).”

 

Women’s sports have always been undervalued by society. Women who play “men” sports like hockey, golf, and soccer are thought of to not be as good as the men. Then if they play “women” sports like figure skating, they’re reduced to not being as good as athletes because it’s a feminine sport. In college, women make up fifty-seven percent of all college students, but they only receive forty-five percent of athletic scholarships (Eitzen 201). Then coupled with the fact that universities give women sports less money than men – UC spent over one thousand dollars per player on the men’s basketball team compared to thirty thousand per player on the women’s team (EADA) – it’s no surprise that women are treated lesser by universities and society.

 

While the UC’s women’s basketball team does not have the same audience as the men’s team, it could be because the University does not give enough money and support to the women’s team for them to get the same attendance levels. Although, when the UC’s women’s basketball team played the UCONN’s women’s basketball team over four thousand people came to watch, showing that people do care about the team.

 

It’s hard for women’s college sports to succeed when people in charge of the university, and the NCAA as a whole, have a problem with women in power. According to Coakley “Women athletic directors in 20% of institutions in 2012 (215 schools), while men held that position in 843 institutions (Coakley 206).”  Women are more likely to care about women’s sports and will want them to succeed. This is not saying that the men in charge don’t care, but it’s easy to ignore women’s sports if you don’t give them money or advertise their games and matches so people can go watch them. The argument with people saying that it’s okay women play in these lesser facilities (which also happened with Northwestern University’s women’s basketball team) is that they attract less people. It’s true that the UC women’s basketball program averaged less than one thousand people per game, but the fact that the University couldn’t find a suitable arena (preferably one that actually is meant for college basketball players) is a little sexist. Especially when the University doesn’t give the women’s basketball team as much money. Yes, one could argue that it’s because the women’s team doesn’t bring in the same amount of revenue as the men, but is that really the women’s fault? Should the women’s team be punished for not attracting as many people? If the University gives the women’s team more money than what they already get and advertise and promote their games just as much as the men’s team, then maybe they’ll start attracting more people.

 

As mentioned early this is not the first time something like this has happened. It’s currently happening with Northwestern University where Welsh-Ryan Arena is undergoing renovations. The men’s basketball team will be playing at Allstate Arena, home of DePaul University, while the women’s team will being playing at Evanston Township High School. Northwestern University spends roughly three hundred-fifty thousand more dollars on its men’s team than its women’s (EADA), which isn’t a huge difference, but considering there’s more players on the women’s team than the men’s, it’s still questionable.

 

In professional sports it is usually the same sort of story. “Additionally, when men and women play the same sport, there are often sexually discriminatory rules. The most common involve length of races or duration of matches. NBA quarters are twelve minutes long while WNBA quarters are ten; professional men’s tennis players play a best-of-five set match while women’s professional players play a best-of-three (Goff 450).” It’s easy to see why people say women aren’t as good as men, when they aren’t even allowed to play under the same rules; saying that these women don’t have the stamina to play as long as tennis matches or basketball games. The same thing also happens in golf, women tee up close to the hole than the men do, saying they don’t have the strength to hit it as far as the men or that they need an advantage to finish under par.

 

Having a men’s team play in an actual arena meant for college basketball players while women have to play at high schools is not fair or equal. It doesn’t matter how many people come to their games, it’s on the University to make sure that their men and women’s teams are treated fairly. It’s on them to make sure that both teams have the same opportunities and right now they don’t. In a Cincinnati.com article civil rights lawyer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar said, “You don’t have to have a law degree to see this isn’t equal. If you ask the men would they switch, what would they say? That answers the basic fairness question.” She brings up a good point, because more likely than not, the men’s basketball team would not want to switch places and play at a high school. So, why should the women then?

 

Bibliography

 

Brake, Deborah L. Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution. New York: New York UP, 2016. Print.

 

Coakley, Jay J. Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

 

Eitzen, D. Stanley. Fair and Foul: Beyond the Myths and Paradoxes of Sport. N.p.: Rowman & Littlefield, n.d. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 4 Feb. 206.

 

Goff, Jeremy Book Review: Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports, 21 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 449 (2010) Available at: http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol21/iss1/17

 

Murphy, Kate. “Is It Fair for UC Women’s Basketball, Volleyball Teams to Play at St. Ursula?”Cincinnati.com. N.p., 04 Apr. 2017.

 

Zirin, Dave. Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside down. New York: New, 2013.