The University of Connecticut is known for its women’s basketball team. That being said, with the UConn’s men’s team making the NCAA March Madness Final Four for the first time since 2014, there is much to be unpacked. Clearly men’s and women’s college sports do not garner the same level of support from Nike sponsorships, professional sports teams or from fan accounts that are supposedly impartial.
UConn men’s basketball has had a phenomenal March Madness run after a season that had its fair share of ups and downs, with many not expecting them to advance as far in the postseason. After many years without advancing to the Final Four, it’s expected that there would be more hype surrounding the team this year — especially considering that they won all the games leading up to the Final Four by a margin of double-digits.
The excitement on campus was palpable as the men advanced to the Final Four for the first time in nearly a decade. But that’s when the differential treatment began to become more apparent; the UConn men’s basketball team flew to Houston for the Final Four game on a jet lent to them by the New England Patriots. When they got there, brand new Nike shoes were waiting for them (Nike has had an exclusive contract with UConn Athletics since 2008).
In contrast, last year, when the UConn women’s team went to their 14th consecutive Final Four — which set history in college basketball — there were no new Nike shoes waiting for them. When they made it to the March Madness Championship for the 12th time in 2022, there was no private jet lent by the Patriots or any other New England sports team. Nike says it supports gender equity for the athletes they serve, but where were the shoes for the team that has undoubtedly been garnering the sportswear giant more consistently over the last decade?
As a student at UConn, I am happy to see either basketball team advance in the March Madness bracket, but the work that the women’s team has put in to get them 11 Championship titles and set unbeatable streaks of Elite Eight and Final Four appearances clearly has not resulted in the same benefits that the men’s team receives.
There are differences in the legacies tied to both teams; For example, the men’s team won their fifth NCAA Championship title in contrast to to the women’s 11. UConn is the basketball capital of the world, and it was exciting to see our men’s team advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014, to then go all the way to the Championship to bring home the title. While both teams contribute to the UConn basketball legacy, it is clear that the women’s team has undoubtedly helped cement those titles for the school, which should, in theory, get them at least the same perks that the men’s team get when they advance.
Is it that the women’s team was too good for too long, resulting in each additional Final Four appearance losing some of the zeal that comes with a team that hasn’t advanced as far in recent history? Or is it that men’s basketball is more marketable, and that when they receive brand new shoes or a trip on an NFL team’s private jet, it makes for better publicity than it would for the women’s team?
UConn’s Barstool Instagram account, @uconnbarstool, is a clear supporter of the men’s team and posts constant memes of Dan Hurley and pictures of the men’s games, but does not extend the same fervor to the women’s team. There are no regular posts leading up to, during or after women’s games. During the March 20th women’s game, there were two posts, one probably sent in by a student who attended the game. One was about UConn’s mascot Jonathan the Husky, and the other about Nika Muhl’s three-pointer. That was the most they posted about a women’s game during the 2023 March Madness.
It is hard witnessing large disparities in treatment from powerful figures and from vocal social media accounts, especially since it does not seem reflective of the majority of students. What would it take for the UConn women’s team to garner the same level of respect that the men’s team gets on the national level?
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Very well-written article. I must say it’s just stupid to cry over shoes for a team. I love both programs, and the women are treated like God’s. They’re the pride of C.T. I honestly don’t know what your gripe is. Have the UConn women never received new shoes for their previous 14 final 4s?