Folks in western Michigan are stewing. High school athletes, coaches and spectators are expressing their displeasure with the scheduling of boys' and girls' basketball games - the boys first, the girls second. Everyone's blaming the Michigan Women's Commission, which operates under the state Department of Civil Rights, for ruining the sports experience of the girls that the group purported to be supporting with its complaint against the Lansing-based Michigan High School Athletic Association and Lansing-area schools.
At issue in that complaint was the longtime tradition of boys' games occurring in the "marquee" Friday-evening time slot, with the lesser squad (the boys' junior varsity) contesting the early matchup. With girls' teams replacing the boys' JV as the opening act, they typically played before sparse crowds until after halftime, when fans arriving early for the boys' varsity games began filling the stands. The MWC's complaint was settled in 2009 before it could be adjudicated, so various athletic conferences have, in fairness and with an eye toward possible litigation, reversed the order of games. The result? Boys' early games continue to pack the house, while the mass exodus of fans during the girls' game is a "fiasco," "a slap in the face" and "humiliating" to the female athletes, according to various observers quoted in a January Grand Rapids Press article that has since been picked up by every news outlet and blogger with an ax to grind against gender-equity activists in particular and so-called "politically correct liberals" in general.
Other states have run afoul of "gender-equity activists" - typically, they're simply aggrieved parents - by scheduling girls' games on Wednesday or Thursday nights, while reserving weekend nights for the boys. Administrators in these jurisdictions felt vindicated by last October's Parker v. Indiana High School Athletic Association, in which a federal district court determined that disproportionate scheduling of boys' games on Fridays and Saturdays did not "deny athletic opportunities" to female athletes, and was therefore not a violation of Title IX or the 14th Amendment. However, it is worth mentioning that the decision goes against legal precedents and is under appeal by the plaintiffs, who note that such a schedule places undue burdens on female athletes, such as limited time to study on weeknights and fewer opportunities to be seen by college recruiters.
Michigan's situation is particularly fraught, given complaint that was first heard in 2001 and adjudicated, finally, in 2007 (!) to force the MHSAA to place girls' basketball alongside boys' basketball in the winter. (The girls never got the marquee time slots then, either, because boys' football owned Friday nights in the fall.) Now that girls' sports seasons are aligned with those of other states (so they can pursue college scholarships in basketball, volleyball and other sports when colleges are actually recruiting), the question is how to ensure girls get the opportunity to play at times when more people are off work and can possibly watch them.
Whether people actually come out to watch them is another issue altogether. Are female athletes "humiliated" by people heading for the exits while they play? Maybe. Is the answer relegating them exclusively to earlier time slots, when families are still eating dinner and recruiters are still on the road? Title IX - and common sense - clearly forbids this. The solution, surely unpalatable to communities with longstanding traditions favoring boys' teams, is to alternate the scheduling of (admittedly convenient) doubleheaders just as these Michigan conferences have done, or to schedule boys' games exclusively on half the Friday and Saturday evenings and girls' games on the other half. That's what equity means.
And if any athletes or coaches or athletic directors find the mass exodus humiliating, all I can say is, suck it up. Play good ball and market your program better, and people will stick around to watch.