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On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the volleyball community says there’s more work to be done

On June 23, 1972, Title IX changed women’s sports forever.
Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 9:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - On June 23, 1972, Title IX changed women’s sports forever.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and was created to ensure that women would have the same opportunities in athletics as men.

Since the law was enacted, we’ve learned the stories of countless female athletes who inspire, and have shaped the world of sports as we know it.

While the anniversary is a time to reflect on the progress that’s been made over the past 50 years, leaders in sports say there is still more work to be done.

University of Wisconsin Volleyball Coach Kelly Sheffield has been vocal on social media, advocating for better broadcast coverage of college volleyball during the postseason.

“We didn’t have a single match on TV from the end of our regular season through the first two rounds of the tournament,” Sheffield said. “Thirty-some matches we were completely in the dark.”

During the 2021 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Volleyball Tournament, ESPN streamed the first and second rounds on ESPN+. The tournament’s semifinal match was broadcast on ESPN and the National Championship match was broadcast on ESPN2.

“You’re sending a message by not putting it on the first couple rounds and what you are putting out there is sub par,” Sheffield said.

NBC15 reached out to ESPN to learn more about their criteria for airing games on TV versus streaming them.

In a statement from the ESPN communications office, NBC15 was told, “We consistently look for opportunities to expand coverage of ESPN’s portfolio of college championship events, including women’s volleyball.” They noted that the calendar was a factor for ESPN scheduling, and mentioned that “NCAA volleyball occurs when ESPN networks have significant commitments to football.”

However, for Sheffield and others, this isn’t a recent issue they’ve noticed. Big Ten Network broadcaster Emily Ehman said when she played volleyball at Northwestern, she noticed the lack of national attention.

“We’re busting our butt every day the same as the football players, the same as the men’s basketball players, putting in the same amount of hours so we deserve the same amount of coverage.”

Ehman said she now wants to use her platform as a broadcaster to continue to grow the sport of volleyball, and advocate coverage of the game at a national level.

“Once it’s talked about on those panels and with these analysts and different reporters it comes from there too,” Ehman said. “It’s not just getting those games on TV but talking about them.”

Ehman said there’s a demand for this type of coverage, and the numbers prove it.

According to ESPN, Wisconsin and Nebraska’s championship match brought in a record breaking 1,188,000 viewers, a 71 percent increase from the Spring 2021 Championship.

Since the Badgers won the title in December of 2021, Sheffield and 15 to 20 other coaches have been talking weekly with various school administrators, conference commissioners, business owners, members of the media and networks about increase broadcast coverage of volleyball.

“It’s been some great dialogue and it seems like there’s some legitimate real stuff that is moving,” Sheffield said.

While there is more work to be done, Sheffield said he is fired up about the future of volleyball and the continued growth of the game.

One step in that direction is the addition of the Big Ten volleyball media day. On August 1 and 2 in Chicago, the Big Ten Conference and Big Ten Network will partner up and host the first media day for NCAA Division 1 volleyball players.

“We are grateful for the people that came before us,” Ehmann said. “For all those women and trailblazing people, our role models, but recognizing that it’s also our duty to keep pushing it forward.”

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