I have never played basketball. Throughout my life I have chosen to participate in the sports of softball and soccer which are more in line with the reality of my vertical limitations. But I LOVE basketball. I love the pace, the dunks, the comebacks and the buzzer-beaters. I stand and cheer (sometimes several times a week) in support of the Michigan men’s basketball team as a loyal member of the “Maize Rage” student fan section. For the past two seasons, during Michigan’s March Madness appearances in the NCAA tournament, everything else virtually ceased to exist as I followed each and every play. I love basketball, so you may be surprised to know that until last month, I had never attended a women’s college basketball game.
The Game, The Game, The Game
To gain some perspective on similarities and differences, let’s compare some elements of the Michigan women’s basketball game played on November 16th and the Michigan men’s basketball game played the very next day. Each game pitted the Wolverines against the Bison of central Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University.
Both Wolverine teams displayed incredible athleticism with their speed, agility, strength and endurance. The women demonstrated their physical talents with 4 crowd-pleasing blocked shots and 7 three-pointers that contributed to the 68-61 win. In the men’s game, senior Max Bielfeldt came off the bench consistently muscling his way inside to tally an impressive 18 points allowing the Wolverines to outscore the Bison 77-53.
Players from both teams also displayed a high-degree of skill which, in the game of basketball, can only be gained through a great deal of practice. The women were led by the smart play of senior Cyesha Goree who achieved a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Evidenced by the high number of assists and the low number of turnovers, the men showed excellent ball-handling and strategic skills.
While the athleticism and skill levels emphasized similarities between the men’s and women’s teams, the disparity in the tenure of the starting teams highlighted the differences. The women’s team boasted 4 returning starters (Goree, Shannon Smith, Nicole Elmblad and sophomore Siera Thompson), the men’s team had only two (junior Caris LeVert and sophomore Derrick Walton).
“Hey! … Must Be the Money” (sung to the Nelly classic “Ride wit me”)
Like many other men’s basketball programs that recruit elite players, Michigan has experienced its share of players leaving for the NBA before finishing out their college eligibility. After an unbelievable season that had the Wolverines in the final game of the 2013 NCAA tournament, sophomore point guard Trey Burke declared for the 2013 NBA draft. Many fans were disappointed, but no one was surprised.
Last season, the 2013-2014 team fought hard and once more appeared in the NCAA tournament. After exiting during the Elite Eight, three key players, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary decided to forego their remaining college years and go pro. Again fans were disappointed, but not surprised. These young men had enviable, but difficult decisions to make about their futures. Very few would argue that the appeal of multi-million dollar NBA salaries significantly influence player decisions on whether to remain with their college team or to cash in on their talent.
Sociologist and author Eric Dunning points out in his article “The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement-Striving and the Social Significance of Sport” that there is a world-wide trend, especially in top-level sport, away from “amateur attitudes” and towards attitudes, values and structures that are “professional” in one sense or another. We Michigan fans take no solace in knowing that the players we hoped to enjoy in Ann Arbor for years to come were “on-trend”.
Of course men are not the only ones who aspire to play professional basketball. More girls and women are participating in sports and choosing to participate at the collegiate level. This is largely due to Title IX that provides for equal public educational opportunities – including athletics, discussed in my previous blog “Confessions from the (Wo)man Cave: We’re obsessed with sports too!” Top female talent may have opportunities for pro careers overseas and/or domestically with the WNBA. It is no secret that WNBA player salaries pale in comparison to those of men in the NBA. The average rookie in the WNBA makes $42,000 per year. The NBA league minimum annual salary is over $500,000 and first round draft picks can expect contracts paying over $4,000,000 their first year. And on top of that there’s the endorsements!
“Hey! … Must be the result of the oppression of women by our patriarchal society
In a nutshell, the NBA’s eligibility rules state that a player must reach the minimum age of 19 during the draft calendar year and be one year out of high school. For female players, the eligibility age is 22 and they must be four years out of high school. Some might say that this difference, where men are allowed, but women are denied, the right to make their own choices about their futures could be viewed as a form of discrimination and oppression.
Although great for the individual male players who are given the choice at age 19 to do what is right for them, the one year out rule has led to what is known as the “One and Done” phenomenon. Many believe that this element (Article X) of the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, instituted in 2006 has had a negative effect and has compromised the ability of college coaches to put together a team that includes elite players because of the risk of losing them after one year. Current NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver provides his view in this video:
Silver himself sees the value of changing the rules and is proposing that eligibility require players to be two years out of high school. For those of us fans who are still hurting over the departure of some of our greatest players, this proposal is unfortunately too little and too late. I still love basketball. And although I may very well have done the same thing if gifted with the same talents, I can’t help but wonder what might have been if eligibility rules were different or the lure of the NBA’s treasures had not been so strong…