As it did for the first time in 2010-11, high school boys varsity basketball teams will play first at 6 p.m. with girls varsity games following at approximately 7:30 p.m. this winter on Friday nights in the Capital Area Activities Conference.
“I don’t know of an AD (athletic director) in the CAAC that wouldn’t want to see girls first and boys second,” said DeWitt AD Teri Reyburn, president of the CAAC athletic directors during the 2011-12 school year when the decision was made to again schedule boys first in 2012-13. “I can’t speak for everyone, but the vast majority of coaches want girls to go first and boys second.”
“We don’t have a choice, because we signed an agreement several years ago saying this is what we would do,” said Lansing Catholic AD Rich Kimball, the president of the CAAC ADs for 2012-13.
The agreement was reached with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights by the CAAC in 2009 in response to a complaint filed by the Michigan Women’s Commission, which is affilated with the state of Michigan.
“Some coaches and some ADs would like to see it changed, but then they see the evidence, see what we signed, and see we don’t have any (recourse),” Kimball said. “We don’t have the financial wherewithal to defend a lawsuit or initiate a lawsuit.”
Fears of legal costs led the CAAC to decide to propose the alternating format endorsed by the National Federation of High School Associations for cross country where one gender goes first in odd years and the other in even years.
The Michigan Women’s Commission, which alleged having the girls play first every year was gender discrimination, agreed to that proposal.
“We were concerned about the negative impact female athletes could suffer. Do college recruiters and scouts see them at those times? Do the girls’ programs have equal visibility with the boys’ programs? These were some of the questions the Women’s Commission based our civil rights complaint on,” said Judy Karandjeff, former Executive Director of the Michigan Women’s Commission, in a press release on Oct. 30, 2009.
“The whole lawsuit was over equity,” said Reyburn. “If people want to see equity, it would remain girls first and boys second every year.”
Reyburn said having boys go first in 2010-11 had a negative impact on both teams.
“The bottom line is when boys go first, it’s difficult for people to get there by 6,” she said.
Some fans therefore chose not to attend at all, thus lowering attendance for both as well as gate receipts at a time when high schools need additional — not less — financial support to fund their sports programs.
“You would also have a migration after the boys game was over, and girls wound wind up playing in front of a lot fewer fans,” Reyburn said. “With girls first, attendance was a bit sparse to begin with, but around halftime many more came in for the evening events. There would be much more of a crowded arena for the ending of girls games, which is much more exciting for the fan base.”
Reyburn pointed out that there were a few exceptions at schools that have stronger girls basketball programs.
“I wish it was like that for all schools, but it (boys first) seems to have a negative impact for most schools,” she said.
Reyburn said it would take a lot of gathering of statistics to use to demonstrate what she and other ADs saw in 2010-11 and expect to see again in 2012-13, but even that might not make a difference.
“We could try to get a hearing to show how harmful this is, but we don’t have documentation, and how do you count people leaving a game?” Kimball said.
“We have used that argument, but there’s no give on the other side,” Reyburn said. “I’m not sure facts and figures mean a lot to them.”
Jacki Miller, Public Information Officer of the Michigan Departament of Civil Rights, indicated the CAAC could file a civil right complaint of its own, although it must do so within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination.
But would a complaint based on lack of attendance be considered an act of discrimination?
That’s just one of many questions raised since girls basketball moved from fall to winter before the 2007-08 school year after the Michigan High School Athletic Association lost a gender equity lawsuit.