If you were a member of a college team that won a national championship in a tournament held in the Washington area before almost 5,000 fans, you would expect your team to get more coverage in a local paper than a college team that came in second in a tournament held on the West Coast.
You'd be wrong. This is no hypothetical. In real life, The Post gave 186 column inches and two photographs to the second-place American University soccer team and only 23 column inches and two larger photographs to the winning George Mason University soccer team, and the difference, according to some readers, is that the American University team was made up of men and the George Mason team of women.
This is not an isolated example. A recent report by the Miller Lite/Women's Sports Foundation on a survey of 1,682 female coaches, trainers, physical education teachers and athletes shows that 41 percent attribute unequal media attention to women's sports to the dominant male culture, while another 25 percent attribute it to discrimination by media decision-makers. In short, two-thirds of the women polled felt their sports were dealt with unfairly. The survey went unreported in The Post (though USA Today carried a story on it Dec. 5) because Assistant Managing Editor George Solomon said no copy of the survey had been received.
There was drama in both area team achievements. The George Mason Patriots, a relative newcomer to the sport, won the National College Athletic Association title in a Fairfax game by defeating a long-time champion, North Carolina. The little-known American University Eagles got to the men's finals in the NCAA to confront a soccer powerhouse of many years, University of California at Los Angeles, and only lost in an exhausting match in Seattle that went into eight overtimes.
How does one explain such disparity of coverage, particularly when the lesser coverage goes to a winner, who won not on the opposite coast but in a contest held within easy reach? Sports Editor Solomon, who presides over a staff that includes two female sportswriters and four female editors, attributes the 8-to-1 ratio to differences in "reader interest" and suggests it could have been worse except for "journalistic responsibility." The male American University team got lots of attention because of "who they were beating, the small size of American University, its location in Washington and the competition they were going up against" in Seattle. In addition, "there was lots of interest from American U. alumni and in the general soccer community."
In contrast, the interest in women's college soccer is "not nearly as intense." The fact of "women participating in athletics doesn't ensure interest," Mr. Solomon added. He pointed out that the men's final was covered live on television, and when readers "see an event on television they want to read about it." The George Mason final was carried on a delayed basis.
"We try to make intelligent judgments. George Mason was a championship game in our area and it is a team we cover even though the general level of interest isn't that high." American's David vs. Goliath drive to the finals and "then facing a major champion with the prestige of UCLA had much greater interest," Mr. Solomon declared.
While there is a case for heavy coverage of American, an 8-to-1 difference in space allotted is lopsided. Now that it's been called to his attention, I suspect Mr. Solomon thinks so too.
And now an alert to Mary Hadar, assistant managing editor for Style: A woman reader is keeping book on how many of the big-splash profiles are about men. An ongoing survey of recent days reveals 16 of men versus only six of women -- and she's still counting. We all have to remember that more than half the readers of The Post are women.