We are in a golden age of Rice athletics.
I’m not kidding. Yes, I know the football team finished 1-11. I get that the baseball team just barely extended its NCAA tournament streak after starting the season 13-25. I see the men’s basketball team struggling to pick up wins.
Those teams are not the reasons for Rice athletics’ golden age. Frankly, they have been disappointing. Instead, it’s the women carrying the load.
Rice’s women’s teams have achieved an unprecedented level of success in recent years. Pick a team and look at the trophies. Of the seven women’s sports teams, only basketball and volleyball do not have a conference championship since 2014. And it’s not like those two teams haven’t had successes of their own. Volleyball has had four straight 20-win seasons, and basketball won the Women’s Basketball Invitational championship last year.
This year might just be the best year yet. Volleyball cruised to a 21-9 record and qualified for the National Invitational Championship tournament. Soccer won the conference championship, appeared in the top-25 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014. Swimming is currently the top-ranked team in Conference USA and has a chance to win its first conference title since 2014. Basketball is 12-2 and has received votes for the top-25. The most disappointing season so far has been cross country, which finished third in the conference to end its two-year conference title run. Horrible, right?
Much of the focus in recent months, however, has been on Rice’s shortcomings. Sure, baseball looked terrible for much of last season, football had its worst year since the 1980s and men’s basketball took a massive step back. But if we stop focusing on the three premier men’s sports and look at the bigger picture, Rice athletics looks a whole lot better.
It’s about time we gave some attention to women’s sports. Though not surprising, it’s unfortunate that nearly every student knows about the men’s basketball team’s struggles while far fewer are aware of the women’s basketball team’s hot start. Attendance reflects the huge disparity in attention. Men’s basketball is averaging 2,233 fans per home game while women’s basketball is averaging just 558 despite being far better.
That’s not a Rice-specific problem. Men’s athletics get far more coverage on networks like ESPN and Fox Sports. Football and men’s basketball have long generated the most revenue, so virtually all athletic departments, including Rice’s, promote and support those sports the most. Media coverage usually focuses on those sports, too. The Thresher certainly isn’t innocent in this matter.
It’s next to impossible to totally undermine that structure. We can try, though. Let’s give the women’s teams some credit. Let’s go to their games and increase their attendance. They deserve any attention they get, because they certainly do not get enough.
It’s a golden age for Rice’s women’s teams, and most Rice fans are missing it and focusing on the men’s teams’ struggles. If you would rather watch the men’s basketball team struggle than watch the women’s team thrive, that’s your decision. But you’re really missing out.