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March 17, 1988 - Image 36

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-03-17

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© SUSAN ALLEN CAMP
Fans in high places: Constitutional scholar Barbara Jordan and other VIP's at UT

autographed basketball, a tour of the arena
and, finally, earn the privilege of sitting
behind the bench during a game. Rutgers
gave away posters of its All-American Sue
Wicks,withthecaption, "She LightsUpthe
Knights," to the first 2,000 fans who arrived
for the Maryland game. Tennessee went a
lot further: two years ago the Lady Vols
offered 10 cars-as in automobiles; student
attendance picked up, but only temporar-
ily. Vols coach PatSummitt tries not to take
the lack of fervent interest personally. "We
have a great intramural program, and
there's a lot to do here," she says. "Students
want to be entertained or to entertain
themselves." Says Tennessee sophomore
Kim Ezell: "It's the atmosphere, really. The
games are so much quieter."
Crude but effective: Quiet is not the problem
at Texas Tech, home of the Bleacher Crea-
tures. "We decided to give women's athlet-
ics some support and get them some more
attention," says Rusty Thompson, one of
about 90 men who have formed a raucous
cheering section for the Lady Raiders. The
Bleacher Creatures' tactics are crude but
effective: basically they hurl insults and
other verbal abuse at the opposing team.
During a game against Brigham Young,
the Creatures started counting down the
final seconds of the game a bit early. The
BYU player with the ball felt rushed to
shoot and missed. Tech's players like hav-
ing the Creatures around. "As a group,
they have drawn other people to watch,"
says senior forward Darla Isaacks. "And
any time we can hear our crowd gets us
fired up and makes us want to put on a
good show."
The Lady Longhorns have found an even
better way to attract fans: great play and a
consistently winning record. Under the

leadership of the most successful active
female coach in women's basketball, Jody
Conradt, the Longhorns have ended every
season since 1983-84 ranked No.1 in the AP
poll. When the team won the national
championship in 1986, something clicked.
The town went hog-make that horn-
wild, and attendance at home games
jumped from 2,400 the year before to the
current average of 8,000.

One fan who rarely misses a home game
is former congresswoman Barbara Jor-
dan, now a professor of public affairs at
the university. "I was not a basketball fan
before I viewed the Lady Longhorns," says
Jordan. "Once I attended one game, I
was hooked." Still, it took a PR campaign
reminiscent of a mayoral campaign to get
the attendance ball rolling. Team posters
were plastered in school hallways and in
the local shopping malls; stars like 6-foot-4
Susan Anderson were made available for
newspaper interviews, and the team
played benefit games for the community.
Now, going to see the Lady Longhorns is an
in thing to do in Austin. And once fans
witness the Longhorns' "in your face"
style, they come back for more. "They're
always on the lookout for fast breaks," says
UT law student Tim Brewer. "Kind of like
the L.A. Lakers."
Changing the rules: Many attribute the new
fascination with the women's game to the
dramatic increase in the skill level of the
players. A few decades ago the women's
sport was considered little more than a
means of keeping females busy while the
boys went about serious athletic business.
Even the rules were different. Instead of
five players to a team, the women played
with six, divided between the front and
back courts. This arrangement was de-
signed to keep the women from having to
run around too much; it led, of course, to a
slow, low-scoring game.
Women's sports got a big boost in 1972
when the federal Title IX anti-sex-discrimi-
nation rules forced schools to provide
equal sports opportunities for women. At
Iowa now, the women's basketball program
has an annual budget of $200,000 (exclud-
ing coaches' salaries and scholarships).
Though men's football and basketball gen-
erate most of a major university's athletic
revenue, women's teams usually are grant-
ed equal access to sports facilities. The
men's and women's locker rooms at Iowa's
$18 million arena are almost identical,
equipped with sofas, carpeted lockers, ster-
eos and TV sets.
Not identical, though, are the postcolle-
giate rewards. While male stars can look to
lucrative NBA careers, most women real-
ize that their basketball careers will end
once they get their diplomas. Many coaches
and players see that as a hidden benefit.
Women students never encounter agents
bearing contracts and Corvettes, which al-
lows them to concentrate more on the game
at hand-and their studies. "In the long
term," says UT coach Conradt, "profession-
al sports are a deterrent to people being
serious about getting a degree." Athletic
glory and an education, too? Chalk up an-
other win for women's basketball.
GEORGE HACKETT with JOHN GILARDI in Iowa
City, LISA BROWN in Austin, TERRY ALLEN
in LosAngeles, PH I L IP NE WM A N in Knoxville,
LI ND A BURKE in Lubbock and bureau reports

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'in your face': USC's Cherie Nelson

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20 NEWSWEEKONCAMPUS

APRIL 1988

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