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Beyond Title IX: Wisconsin athletes stress need to 'continue to invest in all women's sports'

MJ Hammill, a junior setter, broke down many things that Title IX has given her specifically: a chance to compete in world class facilities, chartered planes to away games and so much more. But she didn't hesitate to discuss the issues of gender equality when it comes to broadcasting games.

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Wisconsin Badgers middle blockers Dana Rettke (16) and Anna Smrek (14) go up for a block on Nebraska Cornhuskers outside hitter Madi Kubik (10) during the NCAA volleyball national championship at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Rettke and other women who play at Wisconsin say women's athletics has come a long way since Title IX passed 50 years ago, but there's still more work to do.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch
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MADISON — Dana Rettke fell to her knees after she scored the winning point. Julia Orzol jumped up and down in celebration. The bench, screaming in excitement, joined the huddle as red streamers fell from the ceilings and television crews ran forward to get video of the national champions.

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The big male was unable to get out of deep snow after its long winter nap was interrupted.

A historic Wisconsin women's volleyball moment would have been unimaginable 50 years ago, before the introduction of Title IX.

MJ Hammill, a junior setter, broke down many things that Title IX has given her specifically: a chance to compete in world class facilities, chartered planes to away games and so much more.

But she didn't hesitate to discuss the issues of gender equality when it comes to broadcasting games.

Title IX helped create opportunities that didn't exist before for women's athletes. Television rights and broadcasting practices aren't included in the half-century-old legislation, but Hammill isn't alone among current and former UW athletes in thinking that's the next step for gender equality in college sports.

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"It's easier for a man to get recognized than you are," Hammill said. "If we had similar broadcast rights ... more people hear our names, or know about our games, know about the season, know about female sports, and just how hard they work."

UW women's volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield was outspoken about the issue. He tweeted his frustrations about the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Nov. 28 saying, ".@espn you must be better than this! Players and teams work too hard for this poor production."

Women's college sports viewership has been increasing recently. ESPN announced that the 2021-22 NCAA women's sports season was a record year across all platforms. Volleyball, basketball and gymnastics all had the best audiences in over a decade.

UW volleyball's national championship win amassed 1.2 million viewers. Basketball tallied its highest since 2004 with 4.82 million viewers watching South Carolina beat UConn. Gymnastics saw 922,000 viewers for its team final, the best since 2011.

"I think if you allow more coverage to women's sports, there would be more interest in it," Erin McKinney, a soccer goalkeeper, said. "I feel like Title IX doesn't dictate what kind of coverage goes where. In professional sports, people think that more people want to watch men's sports because there's more coverage. It's only because there's more people watching, but only because there's more access to it."

The final game of the Women's College World Series, in which Oklahoma downed Big 12 foe Texas to claim a sixth softball national title, averaged 1.7 million viewers and peaked at 2.1 million, according to ESPN.

"When women's athletics is shown to the world the ratings reflect (growth), but the investments do not." UW women's basketball player Katie Nelson said. "So just making sure that we continue to invest in all women's sports, because I think that people really enjoy watching them and seeing them."

There appears to be a desire to watch women's sports, but other than the women's basketball NCAA tournament it can be a challenge to watch.

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The first three rounds of the women's volleyball NCAA tournament had to be live-streamed with only the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship being broadcast on cable.

The first round of the women's basketball tournament was on five ESPN networks. Sheffield called it out on Twitter calling the difference in coverage between the two "a slap in the face."

Hammill believes the difference in coverage is likely because not as many people are as familiar with the intricacies of volleyball.

She said broadcasting could improve by adopting a similar model as football and basketball games.

"In football you have breakdowns. You have people analyze the game for hours before and after," Hammill said. "There's so much more to volleyball than what meets the eye. It's so much more fun to watch when you know it. All you need is somebody who's played ... to be like, 'Here's the style of play going up (against) this style of play. Here's the players in the past. Here's how much experience' and stuff like that."

Volleyball games typically don't have a pregame show or a postgame show. Press conferences are rarely aired. Hammill would love to see that model be implemented for all volleyball games, but at least key matchups.

She said she'd see benefit in that for all women's sports as a way to be more engaging with the viewer.

Rettke, who was National Volleyball Player of the Year, noted the Big Ten increased the number of volleyball matches it broadcast over her Badgers career.

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"I think you see a lot of male athletes benefiting from this stuff," Rettke said. "It's great. I think everyone should have the equal opportunity but also investing in those female athletes that don't necessarily have as much opportunity as men's sports to play professionally, at least in America, would be really awesome to see, too."

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Related Topics: WISCONSIN BADGERSTITLE IX
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