Michael Arace: Two women who've helped grow women's sports maintain a passionate advocacy
Debbie Antonelli in the 1990s was the voice of Ohio State women’s basketball on local television and served as analyst for Columbus Quest ABL games and University of Dayton men’s games. Then she quit her day job as director of marketing at OSU and, over 25 years, built a reputation as the hardest-working basketball analyst in the business.
Last week, on the eve of the NCAA Women’s Final Four in San Antonio, Antonelli sat down with trailblazing play-by-play broadcaster Beth Mowins for a Zoom chat with Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. They talked about the growth the women’s game. Among other things, Antonelli, who played for Kay Yow at North Carolina State, said this:
“When we get to the Sweet 16, there are lines on the games. And gambling lines are really important because if people are putting money on women’s games, that means they’re paying attention, that means it’s going to affect ratings, and that means the game is going to grow. It’s an unbelievable way to monetize and to move forward a demographic on the women’s side, between 18 and 48, that really doesn’t get pushed in women’s sports.
“That is going to bring incredible attention. And as every state starts to legalize sports gambling, that is a big part of growing the women’s game and something to keep your eye on. I am not advocating gambling; personally, I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket. (But) I do think that is a way to grow the game.”
Ohio legislators have been debating the issue of sports betting for more than three years, or since the U.S. Supreme Court put the power to regulate that business in the hands of states. A new bill is expected to be introduced in the Ohio Senate this month. It’s possible the bill will pass both houses and be on the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine by June 30.
I don't bet on sports because the bookies know everything. But gambling is older than fire, and it's not going anywhere. I think it’s better for Ohio to legalize and tax sports betting than it is to see millions of dollars flow into other states, or into the pockets of illegal operators. Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among the 19 states that have already legalized sports betting, in some form.
We will revisit the subject here soon, probably. In the meantime, check out the Virtual Sports Report, either at columbusports.org or the Sports Commission’s YouTube channel. The commission’s business is to lure sporting events to Columbus, and said business has been in a yearlong, pandemic-induced holding pattern. Logan has adapted virtually.
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The latest Virtual Sports Report is truly great television, or Zoomvision, or something. Antonelli and Mowins dive right in to the viral issue of the day: How the men are pampered and the women are left wanting at their respective NCAA tournaments.
“For some of us that have been around the game our whole life, we wish the inequities were new,” Mowins said. “They’re not. They’ve been around a long time and the hope is that, moving forward, the leadership provides a much clearer path toward equity."
Antonelli: “Because of the inequities that have been exposed by the coaches and players, I think it’s a good time to open the conversation (with) everything on the table. ... I don’t see why this model (multiple rounds in one city) that we’re living in right now — minus the isolation of the pandemic — can’t be something that actually moves the economic needle for women’s college basketball. Which will move it for the pros.”
Antonelli served as an analyst for both men’s and women’s tournaments, hopping from San Antonio to Indianapolis and back over the past month.
“The first year I worked for CBS, five years ago on the men’s tournament, the publicity was large. ... And I thought, ‘Man, I’ve been working in the men’s game since the mid-1990s, and I don’t get why it’s such a big deal.’ But I also knew there was a great responsibility that came with it.
“Five years later, this year, not one person called me to write a story about being a female analyst on the CBS men’s tournament. I’m the analyst. I’m not the female analyst. The first year I may have been that, but that’s not why I was able to keep my job.”
Mowins has worked, primarily as a play-by-play announcer, at ESPN since 1994. She has called an NFL games on NBC and CBS. She will be doing a handful of Chicago Cubs games this summer.
“For a lot of younger women, athletics came about because of Title IX,” Mowins said. “You could see it so you could be it. There are a lot of people making decisions about what faces we see on TV and what voices we hear on radio. We need more African Americans, we need more women, we need more minorities, because the fact is even for Major League Baseball or the NFL – two other places where I work – the fan base is about 45% women. Why is it that 95% of the announcers are guys?”
Well, er, ah, um … Good point.