Updated: Oct 15
After the Belmont University men’s basketball team defeated the University of Tennessee Martin in a late January game, the stands emptied with haste, leaving only a few faithful fans behind.
The Curb Event Center was lifeless and cold by comparison as another team began its pregame warmup.
This team made history bringing in a first-round win in the NCAA tournament.
With an accomplishment like that in the books, students must have been jumping up and down in blue and red to cheer on their players.
Yet, instead, it seemed nobody cared.
Because it was the women’s team.
But this is just one of too many instances where the Belmont community has failed to show women’s basketball the respect and attention it deserves.
In a conference-wide effort to highlight womens’ games at primetime, Belmont’s squad was scheduled after the men with hopes the fans in the packed bleachers would stick around to watch.
But after the final buzzer in the men’s game, the stadium emptied out faster than NFL fans rushing to beat traffic.
Attendance in the Curb Event Center for the 2 p.m. men’s game was recorded at 1,601, but by the time the women tipped off at 4 p.m., very few remained, and fans continued trickling out as the game progressed.
This is a big deal.
The Curb Event Center stands at the men’s game, Jan. 29. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
The Curb Event Center stands at the women’s game, Jan. 29. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
By the end of the OVC Championship rematch, there were so few in the stands that a Blackboard notification popping up on a student’s phone could startle the crowd.
Women’s head coach Bart Brooks sees the stark difference in attendance, and he wants both teams to share the same energy from the crowd.
“I know our men’s team gets great support, and it’s my goal that the women’s team will get the support that people will be equally excited to come watch us play,” said Brooks.
“And it’s not the same game … We’re different, but I think our game is a beautiful, great game.”
But it all comes down to students’ interest in the team.
Organizations like Belmont’s Student Government Association and greek life often overlook the women in their event planning.
On Dec. 2, the two organizations hosted a pregame tailgate at 6 p.m. to hype students up for an exciting Battle of the Boulevard.
The only problem?
The women’s game was already underway.
Hosting this event while the women left it all on the court sent a direct message to the student body that their game did not matter, even if it was against heated hometown rival Lipscomb University.
Just look at the halftime shows. It’s quite easy to tell which is more exciting.
During that January doubleheader, the crowd at the men’s game was entertained by the Air Elite Trampoline Dunk Team while the women’s crowd sat through a brief dance-off with Bruiser.
While it makes sense to showcase the more exciting act for the bigger crowd, Belmont has to market more to the women’s team, especially if its game schedule was intended to maintain attendance.
The halftime dance-off in from of sparse stands at the women’s primetime basketball game, Jan. 29. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
But the lack of visibility and viewership of women’s basketball is nothing new for the sport. The majority of basketball fans nationwide recognize stars like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker over powerhouse WNBA players like Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Candace Parker.
It’s wrong to call yourself a basketball fan and not exhibit any interest in the women’s game, especially when the athletes are putting in the same amount of work and dedication — and at Belmont, that work has consistently led to better results.
That work consistently remains unacknowledged.
This is a big deal.
And it’s the same sad story with every game that graces the Curb Event Center: more students and fans show up for the men than the women, even if the women are the better squad.
At 26-3, the men dominated their way to the 2021 Ohio Valley Conference championship and the women were in the same boat at 19-5. Both teams were poised for a tournament run.
While the men fell to Morehead State University and missed out on NCAA play altogether, the women defeated UT Martin 83-75 and went on to climb over Gonzaga University in a historic 64-59 victory.
While Belmont celebrated its women’s team at the time, that enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have struck the hearts of students, if game attendance is anything to go by.
This team is so fun to watch, but how would anybody know if nobody shows up?
“I just don’t see anyone who comes and watches us play not enjoy watching this team because of how hard they work and play together,” Brooks said.
“They play the right way and these kids have great character and I think anyone who watches them will be proud of Belmont when they watch us.”
Although American culture and society accepts the notion of labeling women’s basketball as lesser than men’s basketball, Belmont could be agents of change.
Belmont could bring about more visibility and recognition to women’s basketball altogether.
Belmont could be better advocates for the relentless women who dedicate their college years to bringing home the trophy.
Our team deserves it.
PHOTO: The near-empty student section at the women’s Jan. 29 game against UT Martin in the Curb Event Center. Sarah Maninger / Belmont Vision
This op-ed was written by A.J. Wuest.