More Female Basketball Players Graduate College — Here’s Why That’s A Bad Sign For Women And Sports
2:08 pm, March 14th | by Amy Tennery
Female collegiate basketball players are far more likely to finish a four-year degree than their male counterparts, according to a new study released today by the University of Central Florida. The report, published by Bloomberg, analyzed graduation rates among the 64 women’s teams in the NCAA tournament and the 68 teams in the men’s showdown. The results? The women’s teams had an average graduation rate of 89 percent, while the men’s slumped at 67 percent.
While it’s easy to cheer this as a sign academic achievement, this pattern reveals something troubling about women’s sports — and the regulations that deny many female athletes a fair shake at the pros.
First of all, let’s analyze the reasons behind this disparity. As the study author Richard Lapchick told Bloomberg, “Historically, women’s basketball student-athletes place great importance on academics.” And that is one part of the puzzle. But to understand the total discrepancy, you need to look at the professional regulations that keep students around.
Currently, male basketball players must be 19 to participate in the NBA draft, completing one year of college (this is what keeps high school seniors from completely bailing on school). Hence the expression “one and done.” The really talented players get into college and bail after a year, when called up to the pros. In the 2011 draft, 13 college freshmen went in the first round alone.
But that’s not how the WNBA operates.
Under its draft regulations, aspiring players must be 22, a college graduate, four years out of high school, or have completed their college eligibility. The result: Women’s pro basketball careers are truncated by mandate. That means fewer years playing pro sports in the U.S. and shorter careers for the average WNBA player. Women simply don’t have as long to prove themselves professionally.
Of course, age mandates aren’t always a bad thing in sports. There’s a reason that 19-year-old linebackers aren’t trotting up to the NFL. They’d be destroyed. But there is no physical reason that women should be held behind. And let’s consider also the wording of the WNBA draft rules; the regulations don’t even require women to graduate from college — they just have to be four years outside school.
Is the financial incentive the same for women to skip out on school as it is for men? Of course not. The average NBA salary hovers around $5 million, so it’s no competition. But the WNBA rules bar women from pursuing the same professional options that men get. Until the league gets more competitive, salaries for WNBA players will continue to lag behind. And there are enough women willing to jump hurdles to get going on pro.
Consider Epiphanny Prince, a star player at Rutgers who bailed out on her senior year in 2009 to play pro in Europe. At the time, she told the AP, “I just wanted to start my pro career. I feel it was the right move for me and my family. I’ve always dreamed of playing in the WNBA.”
Of course, she couldn’t. So she did the next best thing: Skipped out on school, got a year of pro experience under her belt and made a little cash. She’s currently on the Chicago Sky, where she held the third-best points per game average on her team — during her rookie year.
But Prince (and other players like herself) suffer financially as a result of the draft rules. Take, for instance, a recent paper on the topic from the from the Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy:
That male basketball players are allowed to enter the NBA only one year after graduating from high school, whereas female basketball players have to wait four years before entering the WNBA, highlights the extreme differences in bargaining power between American male and female athletes… the WNBA policy inhibits young women from securing financial independence. The WNBA minimum starting salary is $32,400. While $32,400 in today’s economy is not a huge amount of money, that income is sufficient to allow a young woman to independently support herself. By denying young, female basketball players the opportunity to pursue financial independence, these women remain monetarily tied to others, such as parents and, potentially, men. Such an outcome is dangerous, especially in light of generations past, in which young women played a subservient role in society. This outcome also defeats the argued purpose behind the age/education policy, which is to ensure players’ independence and empowerment.
If men are allowed to decide for themselves whether they think school is important, why aren’t women? And why does the WNBA ignore a financial reality for millions of families across the country: They cannot afford to have a kid spend four years in college, not earning a salary (even if there is a scholarship involved).
With sorely needed attendance and viewership slowly improving for the WNBA, why isn’t the league doing more to recruit top talent and ensure financial solvency for women athletes?