Every year when the NCAA Division I basketball tournament comes around, so do the emails hawking our office’s March Madness pool. Non-sports-fans chip in $5, pretend to care about some college teams, and someone eventually wins the pot—just enough to take the losers out for a beer. But why do we always seem to limit the fun to the men’s games?
Fact: the world will continue to be a terrible place until people show up and shell out for women’s sports. Title IX has made school sports a smidge more equitable, but there’s no Title IX for TV broadcasts, merch sales, or pro contracts. Not everyone can buy Thorns season tickets or stock their wardrobe with Jewell Loyd jerseys. But you can help close the fan enthusiasm gap by replying to your work buddy’s “time to fill out your bracket” email for the men’s tourney with a simple, “And let’s do the women, too.”
That’s what I did last March. (I lowered the entry fee by 20 percent to reflect the US gender pay gap.) There were hiccups. It was hard to find a user-friendly interface: on the NCAA’s website, the “start your bracket” link on the women’s page took me to the men’s corporate-sponsored Bracket Challenge. So in the spirit of doing everything backwards and in high heels, participants had to download a PDF or even (gasp) print out a paper bracket. And the winner—an office spouse—nailed the final teams but didn’t seem to know the tradition of buying the losers a beer.
But there were pluses, too. The Oregon and Oregon State women actually made it to their March Madness last year, so there was more local energy than for the men. Archaic “lady” mascots made for hilarious potential matchups: Beavers vs. Lady Toppers, Bulldogs vs. Lady Bulldogs. And for those who made the leap from pretending to care to actually caring (hey, it’s easy to get hooked), crummy media coverage of women’s sports offers a serious bonus: the chance of having the outcome spoiled by a bar TV or overheard cheer if you’re recording a game to watch later? Close to zero.