By looking at the empty bleachers in the gym at Torrey Pines High School, you wouldn’t think the girls on the court were part of a team that finished 24-6 last season and went undefeated in its league. But the disparity between boys’ and girls’ sports becomes clear hours later when those same bleachers are filled with fans showing up to cheer at the boys’ game.
According to a study by the Women’s Sports Foundation, “The Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports,” the total share of athletic opportunities for girls has decreased in the last decade as compared to boys.
Opportunities in men’s basketball grew faster than women’s and schools that were predominately female often dropped many of their athletic programs between 2000 and 2010.
The popularity of one team over another can often cause difficulty in gaining necessary funding for basketball programs.
How does funding differ?
These funds have an effect on how a team does, therefore affecting everything from school reputations to individual scholarship opportunities for players. Both boys’ and girls’ basketball teams at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego won their league, going on to play in California Interscholastic Federation postseason. However, the ways in which the teams get funding differs greatly.
The boys’ team gets 70 to 80 percent of its funding from sponsorships, according to head coach John Olive. They have one major sponsorship by Under Armour and get most the rest of their funds from sponsorship spots sold during their annual Holiday Classic Tournament. The girls’ team, on the other hand, has had to rely heavily on contributions from players’ parents. According to Olive, his team not only has an easier time fundraising than the girls, but also brings in more students to watch the games than the girls’ team.
MULTIMEDIA: Coach John Olive explains how the majority of funding for the boys’ team at Torrey Pines High School comes from corporate sponsors and one fundraiser.
According to Olive, the difference in the amount the teams are able to fundraise isn’t necessarily gender based, but more about the positive reputation the boys’ team has been able to earn.
“I feel as though we get funding because we are a more established team,” Olive said. “The women have a good team, but haven’t kept coaches for as long and haven’t gained the momentum we have. So sponsors aren’t as likely to want to support them.”
Having more spectators often helps with gaining sponsorships because the team is able to make banners with the sponsors’ names. Those banners are than displayed to the large crowds brought in by the boys’ team.
Without the large sponsorships that the boys’ team gets, the girls’ team has to fundraise all season by teaming up with local businesses and bringing in donations from parents.
MULTIMEDIA: Coach Denise Bennett explains how the majority of the funding for the girls’ basketball team at Torrey Pines High School comes from parent donations and fundraisers throughout the season.
The shortage of female basketball teams
Despite basketball being one of the few high school sports that is identical for both the male and female versions of the game nationwide, there is still a large gap in the number of high schools that offer it to both genders. There are almost 400 more schools in the United States that exclusively offer boys basketball, creating a difference of more than 100,000 male high school basketball players to female players, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Although both boys and girls have a similar probability of being drafted to a NCAA team out of high school (around 3.5 percent), there is more scouting for boys because there are more opportunities for boys to play in high school.
In the past couple of years high school teams have begun to get sponsorships from big companies for equipment, such as Nike or Under Armour.
“A large amount of the funding in my experience, around half or more, usually comes from sponsorships and fundraising,” said Marlon Wells, girls’ basketball coach at The Bishop’s School.
According to Brian Hershman, who has more than 10 years of experience coaching high school basketball, big companies usually choose to sponsor the teams that have players being scouted, whether by colleges or professional teams.
“If you look at the schools, the schools that have had a history of kids getting scouted, those are usually the same schools that have sponsorships from the big companies,” Hershman said. “They’ll try to tell you that that’s not the reason, but if you look at it there’s clearly a connection.”
The big picture
This isn’t just a disparity at the high school level—women’s basketball is overall a much less popular sport than men’s basketball. Even at the professional level, the men’s teams are more prevalent.
For example, the NBA has 30 teams spread across two conferences and six divisions. The WNBA, on the other hand, has only 12 teams in two conferences with no separate divisions.
Although the WNBA was formed 50 years after the NBA, these statistics are hard to ignore.
High schools have tried to regulate funding to make it even for both men and women through Title IX. However, teams can also find ways to accumulate funding in addition to money given by the government.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from gender discrimination in educational programs or activities. This means that schools are not allowed to give more funding to one team just because it is made up of a certain gender.
Even so, they are able to decide on the funding for each team based on other factors, such as performance, but schools must provide necessary funding so that the quality of the girls’ program equals that of the boys’.
In the end, Kandice Kelleher, financial manager of the Torrey Pines High School Foundation says the boys’ and girls’ teams cant be compared to one another for a variety of reasons. “It’s up to each team to be able to find the funds they need,” Kelleher said.