Basketball: the Gendered Game-Time Conundrum

It took a fair bit of time, and a great deal of effort, for me to swallow the pain of a pilfered fifth year and make my way back to SFU’s West Gym; I still felt cheated, and wasn’t sure I’d react appropriately when the need arrived to cheer on a squad that still should have been mine. And so, it was with great hesitation that a couple of weeks ago I bit the proverbial bullet and decided to be a big girl and go watch the Barbara Rae Cup.

Now, the Barbara Rae Cup, for those who are not aware, is an annual game played between the SFU Clan and the UBC Thunderbirds, and the location switches every year. Or, at least it has switched in the past – apparently, the only “league-legal” way for the now-NCAA red and blue to suit up for this fabled match is if it is played on SFU court, by American rules – otherwise, were SFU to tramp the enormous 45 minutes across the city, the game would be considered an international one and therefore constitute a breach of league contract.

But, teeth grinding aside, I quickly and thankfully realized that – personal disappointment aside – my patriotism had not wavered, and I was as avid a supporter as I had hoped I could be, cheering and catcalling proudly along side other ex-teammates, alumni and parents. So caught up was I with trumpeting my support, in fact, that when the first backcourt violation was blatantly disregarded, I chalked it up to referee incompetence and silently and colorfully admonished the poor cad as such.

But, there it was again: a minute later, the ball crossed into the frontcourt with nearly fifteen seconds having ticked clearly away from the flashing red clock. Incensed, I leaned in to a parent nearby and suggested she hand the nearest zebra her thick, horn-rimmed glasses. To my surprise, however, she merely laughed and shook her head. “Oh no,” she replied, “it’s only the men that have a ten second backcourt clock. In the NCAA, the women’s league doesn’t have a backcourt clock at all. They can spend their whole shot clock back there if they feel like it.”

I was at once shocked and outraged. Perhaps I had known of this already, and merely suppressed it; on the other hand, perhaps I had naively assumed that the general equity between the CIS men’s and women’s rules would have extended through the NCAA. But, there it was, staring me in the face: a smaller three point line, smaller even than women’s CIS; a 30 second shot clock, compared to the men’s 35; and the complete absence of a backcourt clock, when our male counterparts were held to the standard ten-of-thirty-seconds.

But then again, I mused, as I began the slow drive home that night, there was a significant discrepancy in the CIS as well, although it wasn’t actually based in league rule. As our women’s team had finished their play, the men had come racing out onto the court – and, as their warmup began, the stands slowly filled to nearly twice the population that was slowly drifting out from the Barbara Rae Cup.

Now, sports-bra-burning, foot-stomping feminist I am not – but I must admit the timing of men’s and women’s games has always been something that has somewhat irked me. At SFU, men and women always split Friday and Saturday – that is, we went early on Friday nights, and the men went early on Saturdays – but even then, the early Friday night games were at least an hour earlier than the early Saturday night games, meaning a much greater ease of accessibility for the working public who tried to drive out and see them.

A certain other unnamed school, for example (one that recruited me, though I will finger-point no farther) has a standing policy that the women play before the men. The women’s coach had even, in fact, gone to the administration to ask about splitting the times, but the men’s coach had put his foot down: men always played later, he said, and that was that. And besides, he added, then more people might show up to the women’s game, if only to get early seats before they were filled for the second, more entertaining match of the evening.

I suppose, ultimately, the timing of games is based on a number of factors. Games that start at 5-something, for example, are notoriously difficult to get to: people are travelling during rush hour, coming straight from work, and are then forced to grab some sort of pseudo-food from a concession stand instead of a real dinner at the end of a long day. The later games, on the other hand, are much like a 7:45 movie: not too early that you’re skipping dinner and changing other plans, not too late so the kids can’t come, and overall a more comfortable time for the majority of the viewing populace.

The Friday/Saturday conundrum is another thing that always bugged me. Yes, the men played earlier on Saturdays, but ‘earlier’ was still ‘later’ than Friday’s first match, and that also meant we didn’t finish our games until nearly 10:00. The same hordes of people that shlepped their way in for the ‘spectacle’ of leaping and dunking men thundered right back out before the women’s game, since by that point it was getting too late and we were interfering with their Saturday nights out.

Yes, yes, I know – I can practically hear the indignant shouts now. Men are more athletic, men are statistically more likely to draw a crowd, men’s games are more entertaining. And besides, who am I to climb up on the proverbial soapbox and spout off about women’s rights? This is supposed to be an athletics website, for gawd’s sakes! I’m just bitter about the league switch, and it’s tainting my perception. Well, touché, dear reader – touché. I am bitter, and it probably is tainting my writing. But I tell you this: not one of the sentiments I expressed above have come solely from the pit of my pouting person; each and every prior point has been purposefully pointed personally out to me by spectators, coaches and players over my decade of basketball player-hood. And no, I don’t think there needs to be some enormous revolution – I just feel that, all things considered, the timing of these games should be taken into more serious account than they have been in the recent past. (The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference recently had to change its women-always-play-first standing policy in response to "an anonymous sex discrimination complaint" – the event that inspired this column.)

Game times, after all, come under numerous umbrellas other than those of viewership: the people playing them must be taken into account, as well as the coaches, trainers, referees, support staff, and facilities managers that put them on. Perhaps the only real issue, then, is that the decisions about men’s and women’s game times are based solely in the desire for spectators, rather than a balance of competition times in double-header weekends or an even spread of accessibility for competing squads on the road. All I’m really suggesting is that, for a “non-rule” based in “non-league” values, game times really do affect more than people realize. And, in all honesty, I’d like to know more about the gender disparity country-wide (and hopefully it’s worse in the NCAA, because then I have even more reason to be bitter).
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  1. Ms. Hole,

    Great stuff ... one way to reply is for people to comment on instances where the male team does play before the female team.

    Carleton, for instance, the men's hockey team typically has Friday night and Saturday afternoon for home games. The women's hockey Ravens get Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (please, correct me if I am wrong). It seems like a fair arrangment.

    In OUA West basketball I've often wondered if it could be done differently. Typically, once they get into the "divisional schedule" in January, everyone plays Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon (Lakehead is the exception due to travel). I can't recall off-hand but typically the tip-off times are 2 and 4 p.m.; that could easily be switched around.

    Anyway, great post. I am floored NCAA doesn't enforce the 10-second backcourt rule (what year is this?) ... excuse my asking, but what are the current CIS rules for a backcourt call? (Eight for each, 10 for each?)

  2. Thanks for the info. I'm sure the scheduling has to differentiate between sports, simply due to facility times and differences in league and sport rules, but it would be interesting to know why that is and why it may or may not be different for basketball.

    As far as the CIS backcourt rule goes, the shot clock is 24 seconds and the backcourt is 8 (this is standard for both men and women). As well, the three point line is a standard distance for both genders.

    I can't help feeling that the NCAA is a bit archaic and (dare I say it) patriarchal in its division of rules. A different-sized ball is one thing (how many 7-foot female players do you see?) but completely different rules just seems, to me at least, like an attempt to give the female side a handicap (which we don't need one bit, a-thank-a-you).

  3. Kate,

    Patriarchal and provincial ... every time NCAA D1 teams have come to Ottawa the games with the 35-sec. shot clock and a bajillion timeouts are so slow.

    I was pretty sure it was 8 for each.

  4. At my school, Laurentian, there are really only two main sports to watch; soccer and basketball (we get the yearly swim meet/cross-country race/nordic skiing), and other than the odd club-lacrosse game, most people tend to either go to soccer or basketball. I remember reading in some oua rule book or something a couple years ago that every other year the start times were to be in the 2007/2008 season, women would play first, guys would play second; in the 2008/2009 season, guys would play first, women would play second. Other than the 2008/2009 soccer season, I haven't seen this implemented.

    Frankly, I find it disappointing, discouraging, sad, that people are only willing to show it for the male sports. There have been nights when I have pot-banged at Laurentian lady games, and sometimes im the only one, but many times, opponents will turn to me and tell me that they wish they had some of the support we have (this only usually happens when we have 5 or 6 our, very rarely) then we might have 30-40 come for the guys game.

  5. Kate,

    At Concordia, the men always play before the women, the only place in the RQSE that it happens. The reason for that is because the men's coach likes to have the early game. The idea is that people will stay for the second game, although it doesn't always work out like that...

  6. Is there a single OUA East basketball school where the women play before the men on a regular basis? I haven't been to every gym but every gym I have visited hosted the womens game first.