Opinion: Confirmation Bias
In psychology confirmation bias describes the tendency to confirm one’s own assumptions and expectations. Within this construct information and circumstances are unconsciously selected, interpreted and weighted in such a way that they fit into the existing worldview.
For example, anyone who thinks that climate change and global warming is nonsense will quickly find themselves in Facebook groups and message boards, where all members share the same opinion. You follow questionable news outlets that describe global warming as a hoax, and you tend to have friends who will not contradict you on the subject. You create an environment in which your convictions are confirmed again and again. Once established, anything that contradicts your beliefs is identified as a falsehood because everything you have built around you says you are right. Thus, confirmation bias is one of the most common forms of cognitive disorder.
Now, what does this have to do with basketball, you ask? Simple. In my opinion, how women’s basketball is viewed in the world, and particularly in college sports, is a prime example of confirmation bias. Women’s College basketball – as the bias goes – is inferior to the men’s game, boring and unspectacular, so both money and media attention flow almost exclusively into the annual NCAA men’s tournament.
The NCAA generates about $1 billion annually from TV revenues for the men’s ‘March Madness’ tournament alone. On the flipside, there are only $35 million generated by the women’s tournament. As has been widely publicized, in the tournament bubble location male college players received a weight room built for Olympians. Female athletes got twelve dumbbells, a couple of sanitized yoga mats and one (!) exercise bike to share among 32 teams. Men were tested daily for COVID using the reliable PCR test, women had to work with the less reliable (read: cheaper) antigen test. Food was worse and the goodie bags were smaller. The official and world-famous March Madness logo? It was emblazoned in large letters on the men’s basketball court. On the women’s court it simply said “NCAA Women’s Basketball”. Factually right, but oh so wrong.
Speaking of wrong. When Rutger University kicked favorite Clemson out of the tournament a few weeks ago, US broadcaster CBS announced effusively it was the first Rutgers victory since 1983, which is incorrect. In fact, Rutgers has won tons of times in NCAA tournaments since 1983. 36 matches to be exact. But since it was the ladies’ team, I guess it did not count.
“The men are generating all the money, so they should get all the attention” is the same logical fallacy as is prevalent in soccer. How is women’s basketball expected to generate any money at all if even the tournament that determines the national champion doesn’t get any attention and their best athletes are constantly treated inferior? Low ratings and less excitement are expected from women’s basketball, which is why these expectations are confirmed again and again. If decision makers saw it differently, it already would be different because they would automatically work towards that goal. They are not, so nothing changes. Or as someone smarter than me once said “nothing changes if you change nothing.”
The irony is women’s basketball right now is better than ever. Women’s college basketball has a lot of young talent right now the whole world would talk about if they were men. Freshmen phenoms Paige Bueckers (UConn), Caitlin Clark (Iowa) and Hailey Van Lith (Louisville) are already outstanding players in their first year out of high school who not only have the talent but also the mamba mentality killer instinct, which is typically attributed to their male counterparts. They are the future of basketball.
As with climate change, I don’t expect everyone to believe 100% in women’s basketball after reading this column. But it would help to be open to the topic and give it a fair chance. To quit lying to yourself and to stop living in a self-affirming bubble is an important first step for anything in life.
For those who love basketball, women’s basketball shouldn’t be an exception. It should be the standard. These athletes deserve nothing less.