Tracing the arc of women’s basketball from its infancy to where it is now, with lucrative sponsorships for its stars and enticing television deals for the sport’s highest level of competition, it’s hard not to marvel at the progress in four decades since Title IX first ushered in a wave that made the growth possible.
But compared to the growth of the men’s game, coming from tape-delayed NBA Finals all the way to billion-dollar TV rights and $200 million-plus contract extensions for the biggest stars, the women’s game still has a long way to go to reach equal footing.
Just look at how the game is covered at its grassroots. A nanosecond Google search unearths a canyon of recruiting services and scouting websites ranking the top boys’ players, with fountains of footage showing you exploits of top stars such as R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson.
Finding as much coverage dedicated to the girls’ side is trickier.
“It’s very unfair,” East Central (Converse, Texas) forward NaLyssa Smith told USA TODAY, after being presented a jersey honoring her McDonald’s All-American selection. “Those articles give boys more publicity and get them more offers. Girls don’t have as many places writing stories on them so we don’t get as much attention, and then sometimes we don’t get the scholarships that should come. We’re all equal and should have the same opportunity.”
Smith says she sees gender inequality “a whole lot.”
“Obviously, the pay for women’s basketball in the WNBA versus the NBA, that’s a major problem,” said Smith, a Baylor signee ranked as the No. 8 overall 2018 recruit by ESPN. “In high school, when you look in the stands it’s really frustrating that there aren’t as many fans as there are for the boys’ games. Sure, they play more fast-paced, but girls’ basketball is being put down by a bias there.”
Many of the girls’ McDonald’s All-Americans polled by USA TODAY expressed similar sentiments about the disparity in coverage and attention between boys’ and girls’ basketball – that, while dispiriting, there’s a confidence things will eventually balance out.
“It’s a matter of time before we hit the numbers like the men,” said Barbers Hill (Crosby, Texas) forward Charli Collier, a Texas signee. “We’re getting bigger and faster. Women will make a change before it’s all over with.”
Like any problem, notes Liberty Hill (Texas) center and fellow Longhorns signee Sedona Prince, “it starts at the bottom in the grassroots.”
“High school girls need these bigger platforms to recognize them for being amazing players and for all the hard work they put in,” she said. “Girls should have just as many followers on social media. It’s happening slowly, but it is happening. ESPN and Girls Prep are the only ones we have. It’s another major issue.”
Asked about Title IX discrepancies, girls did not hold back, especially when it came to provisions. Prince called it “one of the biggest problems in women’s basketball.”
“In AAU, boys get shoes and gear shipped to them and they eat wherever they want,” she said. “It happens in our high school, too. In football, each player gets his own pizza. There are 12 of us and we don’t get that after games. We don’t get any money or food after games.”
Said Ridgeway (Memphis) forward Elizabeth Dixon, “It’s kind of upsetting knowing that they get to do things we can’t.”
Sometimes, though, it’s about personal preference, as The Lovett School (Atlanta) point guard Brown notes.
“I would definitely say there are times when we wonder how the guys get something and we don’t,” she said. “I just think the guys coach is into stuff like that more than my coach. She’s not into the gear. There are times when you question why certain things are the way they are.”
As girls’ and women’s basketball continues its ascent, many of those issues should be resolved. The current group of elite girls’ players certainly thinks so. Just listen to Brown.
“Women, in every aspect of their lives, have had to work harder to get equal to what guys have,” said Brown, who’s headed to Stanford next season. “Basketball is no exception, but even in the time I’ve been playing, there is so much more exposure and ranking services and it will only continue to get better.
“There is a difference, but I’m interested to see what it’s like with my own kids eventually. Just in the exposure we’ve gotten there’s been a lot more there than before.”