Last fall, I saw a packed Island Federal Credit Union Arena empty out before an undefeated Stony Brook women’s basketball team took the court. It was Sunday, Nov. 19. The dispersing crowd had gathered to watch the men’s basketball team fall to 0-4 for the season.
Attendance at both games that afternoon played out like it did all season for both teams. Men’s Basketball, which finished the season with a 13-19 overall record, had an average of 2,722 fans in the stands per game, which was good for the second-highest average attendance in the America East. The women’s team that went 18-12 that same season had 622 people show up to the average game.
This isn’t some patronizing call for equality in fandom for women’s athletics on campus. This is a call for Stony Brook’s sports lovers to pay attention to what’s going on from game to game instead of falling back on feeble stereotypes. Pound for pound, the university’s women’s teams played better and more enjoyably than their male counterparts last year, and only the world-busting women’s lacrosse team got the recognition it deserved. Ignore the rest to your own detriment.
Let’s take a look at last year’s soccer teams. If you kept your attention on the team with the most Y chromosomes last season, you missed one of the best sports stories in Stony Brook’s recent history.
Women’s Soccer’s regular season wasn’t a success by most measures. The Seawolves suffered a five-game skid midway through the campaign, and their rookie-laden starting XI entered the America East playoffs as a No. 5 seed after posting an 8-10 record.
They turned their fortunes around in the ensuing weeks, beating No. 4-seed Hartford, top-seeded New Hampshire and No. 6-seed Vermont on their way to the conference championship and a berth in the NCAA playoffs.
Women’s Soccer was one of four Stony Brook sports teams that took home an America East title last season. The other three were Men’s Cross Country, Women’s Volleyball and Women’s Lacrosse.
Men’s Soccer ended its season at 7-6-5 after a first-round playoff exit against No. 3-seed New Hampshire. Through its 18-game campaign the team scored 20 goals; Women’s Soccer notched 28 over the same stretch.
Female athletes at every level of performance play beneath the stereotype that their sex makes their sport inferior to their male counterparts. At the collegiate level, those same stereotypes contribute to the attendance disparity we see at the IFCU Arena, even though the building’s less popular team fared far better on paper over the 2017-18 season.
At a professional level, those effects snowball, creating an environment where hugely successful teams toil away in relative obscurity and their players put forward tremendous effort for a pittance of the money men make.
The effect is surreal — soccer pundits across the U.S. lamented the U.S. men’s national soccer team’s failure to secure a 2018 World Cup spot as a symptom of the sport’s stagnation in the country. Evidently, the fact that the women’s national team has won three World Cups since 1991 must be a total anomaly. Soccer in the U.S. is obviously a total non-starter.
Even Olympic medalists can’t escape a sexist sports culture that puts their relationship with the men in their lives above their achievements. Corey Cogdell-Unrein learned that when the Chicago Tribune preempted announcing her bronze medal performance in trap shooting by calling her the “wife of a [Chicago] Bears lineman.”
In a perfect world, athletes and teams in every sport would be judged on their merits alone; the eye test and the stats sheet would reign supreme over our outdated preconceptions and dread fascination with dunking. We don’t live in that perfect world, but it’s amazing what a little experience can do to beat back confirmation bias. It happened to me; I didn’t want my Women’s Basketball beat-writing assignment last fall until I opened my eyes long enough to watch Jerell Matthews send a game against Yale into double overtime on a last-second three-pointer.
It was the most fun I’ve ever had watching basketball. I’m not the only one with a similar experience; there have been whole studies showing that people’s opinions against women’s sports evaporate with actual exposure to women’s sports.
So give Stony Brook Women’s Athletics a fair chance to prove how entertaining women’s sports can be, or don’t. Take a night out to broaden your sports horizons, or don’t. But mark my words, you’ll miss some thrillers if you write out this college’s best athletes.