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Women’s basketball team overlooked despite success

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UTEP women’s basketball has achieved a level of success that ranks it near the top of all teams—male and female—at UTEP. The team was a runner-up in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament in 2014. During the tournament’s final four games, the Miners made history as the first UTEP women’s basketball team to ever sell out the Don Haskins Center, which they did twice.

Even with the team’s success, players noticed the disparity in attendance between their games and the men’s, who averaged 7,386 fans  last season—compared to 2,696 for the women—who finished the season with 10 more wins than the men, along with a C-USA championship.

“As far as women’s games, the students don’t come to our games. If you look at the students in the men’s games, you’ll see it’s completely full,” said Jenzel Nash, a graduate student in communication and a member of the team. “I promise, you probably don’t get three rows in the students’ section for our games.”

Julie Levesque, senior associate athletics director, said that advertising in sports is based on trade with companies and claimed it is the same for all sports—no matter the gender of the team.

“Basketball is always together. You’ll never see a men’s basketball commercial without seeing the women’s basketball there also. We use a lot of social media, we send schedules, pictures, updates, etc.” Levesque said. “We make a lot of flyers passed around campus or posters at the restaurants. We put them around campus so people can see the schedules.”

However, Nash said that she has not seen equal advertising.

“We don’t get the same (advertising as) the men. You go to restaurants that are close nearby and you only get to see men’s posters,” Nash said. “And this happens even when we are the ones who are winning. Even with the WNIT.”

Levesque explained that there are many factors for advertising including rivalries, end of season games, events at the university such as homecoming, among others. She says that gender is not one of these factors.

“We don’t say this weekend we are promoting men and the next one women. No, we just do it out of the need and what’s important,” Levesque said. “We decide who needs help based on the events of the sports themselves.”

Roberto Avant-Mier, a communication studies professor, said that this topic is a matter of culture and interest. He believes that the lessons that are learned relating to sports and gender are taught at an early age.

“Sports are a strong factor in culture. Sexism exists in society and in culture. We don’t think what the women do is worth as much as men,” Avant-Mier said. “We have not as much interest for women’s sports. This is just the way it is. This is not fair, but is a matter of culture.”

Avant-Mier also said UTEP makes a large effort to promote women’s games, but that the efforts are not enough.

“I know a lot of times tickets are given away, they sell it for free. But you go to the games and there aren’t many people,” Avant-Mier said. “I imagine the only ones there are friends from the players, family, boyfriends, etc.—but from El Paso, many people don’t show up.”

According to Nash, students who come to women’s basketball games are only friends and other athletes—in other words, not the regular population of students.

“I’m not sure if students don’t show up to our games because they don’t know about them,” Nash said. “I would tell my classmates we are having a game this day and a lot of them don’t even know about our games.”

Levesque agrees with Avant-Mier that no matter the advertising or budget afforded to the sport, people are only going to see what they are culturally inclined to watch.

“People are going to go to a game that they like. If you’re a soccer fan, you’re going to be at every game or if you see the team is winning, you would want to be there,” Levesque said. “It’s about how’s the team and if you like the sport. You can advertise all you want for women sports, but if you aren’t interested in it—you won’t go.”

Avant-Mier teaches a class called communication in sports and said that people do not often discuss sexism in sports outside of academia—they either have not thought about it or they do not want to.

“We want our entertainment and we don’t want to think. There are men in class who easily say ‘well, women in sports suck, so why should I go?’ But they don’t think they are saying something bad or anti-feminist,” said Avant-Mier. “They just think that’s the way it is.”

After six years on the team, Nash is well-versed in the attention each team receives.

“If the men are doing something, people are just going to show up. But us, on the other hand, we have to do something spectacular to be talked about as much. This has always been like this,” Nash said.

Attendance is not the only area where disparity often exists. The gender pay gap still exists in the United States and even exists in college coaching.

When discussing the differences in salary between the coaches, Levesque said these are not an example of inequality, but are based on experience. She said both coaches are the highest paid in their conference.

“Coach Floyd makes more than Keitha, but their resumes are really different. Keitha has only been at UTEP, while Floyd has been a coach in the NBA,” Levesque said. “When looking for coaches, we don’t make decisions based on gender. We try to get a diverse pool, and it just depends on your experience.”

This is not what Avant-Mier thinks when talking about the gender wage gap. He said this is a form of inequality that still happens in the United States.

“We haven’t reached that equal pay. From what I know, women are paid 78 percent of what men earn,” Avant-Maier said.” If for example a man gets paid a dollar, a woman will receive 78 cents. There is no equality even if the people perform the same.”

As another basketball season is set to begin, attendance trends will most likely continue as they have—and no matter the reasoning behind the UTEP coaching salary disparity, that is likely to continue as well. Perhaps another winning season by the women’s team may make an increase in the attendance numbers, perhaps leading to an increase in salary numbers.

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Women’s basketball team overlooked despite success