It's probably an exaggeration to say that I watch MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show religiously, but I definitely have the DVR to set to "record series" and I catch up on it when I can.
I got to it a bit late this past weekend with all the NCAA Tournament games going on, but she gave us something I've been waiting for from her on Saturday: social commentary on women's basketball.
Beginning with the situation at Rutgers University and a look back at the Don Imus controversy from six years ago and moving to the success of Louisville's men's and women's basketball team, she hosted a discussion comparing the culture of the men's game - that some suggest may have contributed to the Mike Rice controversy at Rutgers and Addidas profiting off of Kevin Ware's injury - to that of the women's game, in which neither profits nor ratings are plentiful.
That led her to this point from her intro to the segment:
...the amazing athletes on Louisville's women's team also made a Final Four with a tremendous, crazy, wild upset over the tournament favorite Baylor. Their game happened on the same day (as the men's game). How many of y'all saw it? The Louisville men's game on CBS racked up a 9.4 overnight rating. The Louisville women's game, which ran on cable's ESPN2, earned a 0.9 rating. But rather than scratching our heads and wondering how to make the women's game more like the men's game, let me propose this instead: let's take a closer look at women's basketball as a model for the NCAA.
The following is just a summary of where this discussion went and the ways in which Perry and her guests imagined women's basketball being a model for the men's game.
- Walvius opened by saying the women's game is more "pure" and "traditional" game: based on ball movement and team play.
- Harris-Perry highlighted the academic performance between men's and women's athletes. Hill noted that the differential in monetary gain between men's and women's professional basketball influences that.
- Hill said men's college basketball "stinks" and that she thought the women's tournament would be better this year (to me, she's correct). She continued by noting that the women's game has all the stars right now with Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, and Brittney Griner.
- Delle Donne summarized her story of going from UConn to Delaware.
- Harris-Perry suggests that the men's game has lost that feeling of playing just for the love of the game.
- Delle Donne noted that one difference between the men's and women's game is that the women stay around for four years whereas the men leave early due to the financial incentive.
- To her point in the intro, Harris-Perry suggests that the lack of financial gain is what leaves us with a more "pure" game in women's basketball.
- de Varona proposes we refocus on a central question: "What is the role of the university for the student-athlete?" She alludes to the abuses that go on and schools making money off of athletes who aren't paid as problems.
- Walvius notes that 4 of 5 women in senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies competed in intercollegiate athletics, which is important as well.
- There's a second part in which Delle Donne says that she has not yet decided whether or where she will play overseas as a professional.
They sort of talked around the answer to Harris-Perry's initial question, but the point was pretty clear: Harris-Perry, a college professor herself, certainly appears to have a preference for the culture surrounding the women's game in which the balance of student and athlete leans closer to the former than the latter.
I won't say more on this and for those of us familiar with women's basketball a lot of the points here will be familiar. But I will leave it with the core question put forth by de Varona: What is the role of the university for the student-athlete? And how can the NCAA move toward a place where student-athletes are treated a bit more fairly?
Feel free to discuss in the comments or share what you think might have been missing from this conversation.