Kinnick Stadium was packed to the brim.
On a Sunday night in October, a massive crowd of 55,646 filled the football stadium in Iowa City to watch the Iowa women’s basketball team take on DePaul in a charity exhibition match. This record-breaking attendance, nearly double the previous women’s basketball game record, represents a new era for women’s college basketball. However, when it comes to Duke women’s basketball, the culture still lags behind.
Across the nation, dynamic players like Caitlin Clark from Iowa, Paige Bueckers from UConn, and Angel Reese from LSU have raised the bar for their respective teams and garnered attention from fans and media alike. This newfound prominence not only celebrates exceptional individual talent but also signifies a collective cultural shift towards gender equality in sports.
With this increased attention, one would expect Duke, known as a “basketball school,” to embrace the hype and give its women’s team the same level of recognition as its men’s team. However, the reality is that Duke’s status as a “basketball school” primarily revolves around men’s basketball. The attendance numbers for men’s games far exceed those of women’s games, highlighting the deeply ingrained historical and cultural preference for men’s sports over women’s.
Duke has made efforts to promote its women’s basketball team by advertising their games and arranging public appearances. They have even included the women’s team in events like Countdown to Craziness. However, despite the institution’s support, the fans have not fully embraced the women’s team with the same energy. While Duke students may express their support for women’s empowerment, that enthusiasm does not always translate to supporting the women’s basketball team.
Head coach Kara Lawson acknowledged the impact of the famed Cameron Crazies, who bring an unparalleled energy to men’s basketball games. However, the Crazies’ dedication is restricted to men’s games, leaving women’s games with a smaller and less enthusiastic student section.
During the 2022-23 season, Duke men’s basketball games attracted a total of 149,024 attendees, while the women’s team only recorded 34,133 across their 15 regular-season home games. This attendance disparity reflects the greater popularity of men’s basketball at Duke, a result of historical factors such as the earlier establishment of the men’s team and the delayed sponsorship of women’s basketball by the NCAA.
Other women’s basketball programs, like Iowa, LSU, and Louisville, are drawing in larger crowds due to the success of their teams and star players. While success does play a part in generating interest, it doesn’t entirely explain the popularity gap between Duke’s men’s and women’s teams. Even when the women’s team outperforms the men’s team, the latter remains more popular among fans.
To bridge this gap, Duke fans, particularly students, must make a concerted effort to support the women’s team and attend their games. As women’s basketball gains more prominence on a national scale, it’s time for Blue Devil fans to rise to the challenge and give the women’s team the recognition and enthusiasm they deserve.
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Laura Davis covers the world of basketball with precision. Her articles explore NBA and college basketball, offering game analysis, player profiles, and highlights. Laura’s passion for hoops is evident in her comprehensive basketball coverage.