Big Ten Media Days strive to improve gender equality

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Kevin Warren introduced Michigan Women’s Basketball Head Coach Kim Barnes Arico to kick off the Big Ten Basketball Media Days Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

It was a deliberate choice by Commissioner Big Ten on his first in-person basketball media day since early January 2020. Just as was deliberate, he made his first appearance as Commissioner this month. during a women’s basketball game. They have both implemented one of the core priorities he has for his mandate: to elevate women’s sports and treat them on an equal footing with men’s programs.

This is why Warren insisted on these combined media days which alternate between male and female programming rather than dividing them, and fan attention, as had been done in the past.

“I have this vision that our female and male coaches deserve an opportunity and a platform to hear their voices, their stories, their programs, for them to be amplified. [equally]”Warren told Yahoo Sports on a Zoom call earlier this week.

This is just the beginning of her plans as the sport and the NCAA consider the fallout from their long-standing inequalities that exploded in the 2021 Women’s Basketball Championship. The Big Ten are in the process of hiring a vice president of women’s basketball who will report directly to the new conference sports director, Warren said exclusively to Yahoo Sports.

“This hire will be one of the most important hires I will make during my tenure as Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference,” he said. “It’s an essential element. “

And the conference created the Lisa Byington Award for Shattering Play-by-Play Announcer to honor the past and future of women in sport.

See problems as opportunities

The first championship trophy Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren presented was to the Maryland women’s basketball team, including guard Ashley Owusu, in March 2020 (Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

Warren entered his tenure with the advice of highly respected peers in mind.

“Don’t go into the game saying, ‘Well, here’s how they did it before, so let’s keep doing it,’” Warren told Yahoo Sports. “But don’t go into that from a moral point of view either.”

The 2021 NCAA Women’s National Basketball Championship was the first for Warren after shutting down sports 70 days after starting her tenure as commissioner. And by the time he got to San Antonio, the inequalities in the weight room had already made headlines.

“I didn’t go over there to say, boy, look at this problem, look at this problem,” he said. “I went over there and said to look at these opportunities. And I start with the product and with the talent.

Warren knows a lot about both of these aspects as seven Big Ten teams were in the 2021 tournament and the conference features Iowa sophomore sensation Caitlin Clark. Her UConn counterpart, Paige Bueckers, whom Warren casually referred to in conversation only as Paige Buckets, attended high school 10 minutes from her family’s home in Minnesota. He credits growing up surrounded by “strong and confident” grandmothers, sisters and mothers for setting the tone that equality should be the norm.

One way to honor this is to establish an award on behalf of Lisa Byington, who has achieved several firsts, most notably becoming the play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Bucks last month. Byington played basketball and football at Northwestern and was speechless upon learning of Warren’s price. It will be presented annually to a Big Ten Network digital facilitator who will be able to speak with Byington and receive mentorship within the network for a week.

Equality between male and female programs

Behind Warren in his Zoom-perfect office is a stack of leather-bound notebooks filled with items he has identified as opportunities in all sports. One is to create a dedicated post for women’s basketball in the same way that conferences dedicate a post to men’s football.

“Why do we have a person who focuses on men’s basketball and not on women? Warren asked. “[We need] someone who is a seasoned executive who is passionate about amplifying and creating a platform for women’s basketball. It is extremely important.

Critical, but largely absent. The Big Ten aren’t the only ones employing a senior executive with men’s basketball in the job title, but none for women’s basketball. Often the women’s team is entry-level or integrated into another job and reports to the men’s manager. And that’s been part of the problem, as the 2021 NCAA Tournament Gender Equality Report details. This separation is also a public indicator that men’s play is viewed as inherently better.

“It’s not for the show, but I think it clearly expresses how important this is for the Big Ten conference. [and] me personally from a gender equity perspective, ”he said.

Warren told Yahoo Sports the position will be on a par with the vice president of men’s basketball, and they will each report to Diana Sabau, who was hired in March as the conference’s senior sports executive in his 125 years of history. Sabou reports to Warren, but the commissioner has said that because amplifying the women’s game is a top priority for him, he will be more heavily involved.

The position will focus on programming, health and wellness issues, coaching, officiating and television programming specifically on the women’s side.

“I wanted to hire someone who, from the moment that person woke up in the morning until the moment he went to bed, that he was trying to find ways to activate, amplify [and] empower all things Big Ten women’s basketball, ”said Warren.

There are other opportunities that Warren identified on the women’s side that are listed in these notebooks, such as potentially hosting the conference championships in the same location at the same time. But he said that before putting them into action, he wanted to discuss it with the new recruit who is more directly involved in the matter as well as with the coaches.

“They need to know that we hear them, we care, we understand,” he said, “and like I said, not in a critical way, but to make sure it’s a priority for us for the right reasons. “

Measuring success in different ways

Media days are the official announcement of basketball coverage and in the past the Big Ten has hosted a men’s basketball event in a hotel with the women’s event one teleconference three weeks later. Even when they stood together, it was in different groups; members of the media would often leave and viewers online would go offline when it was the women’s turn. Again, visibility and its absence set the tone for the rest of the year.

That’s why Thursday and Friday, athletes and coaches will all enjoy the same benefits. Availability will alternate between men and women and vice versa, forcing reporters and viewers on both linear TV and live streaming on Twitter to pay attention to both.

It seems so small and like the bare minimum, but it has to start somewhere and it’s a refreshing change from layoffs for women. game heard by other leaders. It is a fact that women’s basketball does not derive the revenue from men’s basketball, but it is also a fact that it does not have the same resources.

Organized women’s sports got off to such a late start as men’s sports and their success has to be measured by other means. Warren said ratings, often used as an indicator of success, were not his goal.

“I want that when you ask our coaches and student-athletes if they actually feel a major difference, they are able to unequivocally explain how she is different from what she used to be,” said Warren. “Because I can sit here and say it’s great. The best thing to do is ask people who is having the most impact. Go to our coaches, go to our student-athletes.

As for the NCAA, which said last week it would use “March Madness” for the women’s game but didn’t know how, there is only one commissioner can do overall. The only thing he can do and he said he intended on entering the role is to “make sure our conference is in order”.

“I think the greatest thing I can do,” Warren said. “Is to ensure that at the Big Ten conference we do everything we can to support, empower and amplify all of our sports, our women’s sports and especially women’s basketball. And just to play a leadership role in this area.


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