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Women’s sports in spotlight ‘only 52 years after Title IX’

Girls and Women’s sport is having a moment. Attendance records are being set. New stars are emerging. Participation is up. And it’s only 52 years after Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education. It’s about time.

The WNBA is at the forefront of this wave of excitement, but basketball is not the only sport benefiting. Television viewership has skyrocketed across women’s basketball both in college and the pros. At least two of the games in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament were the most watched women’s basketball games ever, with more viewers than the 2023 World Series or NBA finals.

This is what was needed for women’s sport to grow, expand and be treated as it deserves.

For a long time, the argument was a bit of a chicken or egg discussion. Women athletes wanted more media exposure and better salaries. The male-dominated media’s position was: Draw more fans and we’ll put you on TV more often.

The women’s response: Put us on TV more often and we’ll draw more fans. Well, now the media will have to respond with more airtime. The recent WNBA draft averaged a record 2.47 million viewers, a 307% increase over last year. This is not just a product of Caitlin Clark, the Iowa star and No. 1 draft pick, who now plays for the Indiana Fever.

A preseason exhibition for the Chicago Sky rookies Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso was not on traditional TV, but more than 500,000 viewers tuned in to a phone stream from a resourceful fan. The win by Cardoso and the South Carolina Gamecocks against Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in this year’s NCAA championship game averaged 18.9 million viewers, making it the most watched women’s college basketball game ever.

Another first: Three WNBA teams (Las Vegas, Atlanta and Dallas) have sold out their season ticket packages in the off season. Several games had to be moved to bigger arenas. Two teams, the Seattle Storm and the Phoenix Mercury, will open new, larger arenas this year.

Finally, players will fly on charters this season rather than commercial flights. This may not seem like a big deal, but for a professional athlete, how you travel over a long, arduous season makes a difference for both recovery and safety.

On August 30, 2023, the largest crowd ever to attend a women’s sports event on the planet filled the Nebraska football stadium as 92,003 fans watched the Nebraska women’s volleyball team beat Omaha 3-0. That’s right, a volleyball game.

The brand new Professional Women’s Hockey League just completed its inaugural season. Oh, and you may have heard, our women’s soccer team is pretty good too.

OK, today’s trivia question: What is the fastest growing high school sport in the country? Bite your tongue if you said pickleball. It’s girls’ wrestling. When girls used to wrestle with boys, both Maine and Arizona crowned girls as their state high school champions. Maybe time for guys to try the balance beam. (Ha!)

Locally, Colorado will officially add girls’ flag football this year. This past year, girls’ participation in the flag football pilot program in Colorado grew by 161% with 1,316 student-athletes from 50 schools. The Denver Broncos have been very supportive. (Duh.)

For whatever reason, the forces of the universe have come together to create this surge in excitement this year. All aboard! Play, attend, watch, tune in, cheer, applaud and enjoy. Be proud to play like a girl. Salaries will follow.

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.