Time To Consider Professional Female Players

FOR the past few years, the National Women’s Hockey League has been operating as an arena for the best female hockey players to showcase their hockey talents. It’s been, more or less, a success, providing a springboard to the Canadian national team, but now the NWHL was faced with a boatload of new problems, not the least of which is the issue of lucrative National Collegiate Athletic Association scholarships.This season, the NCAA has started to crack down on NWHL players who, in any stretch of the imagination, could be considered “professional players”, including the receipt of expensive gifts by the players. For example, the Telus-sponsored Durham Lightning had, originally, given all of its players free phones, but, because of the new NCAA crackdowns, the players were forced to pay for the phones or risk losing their scholarships. In addition to that, the NCAA ruled that even if one player on the team is “paid” the whole club is inelligble for NCAA schloarships, some worth as much as $20,000 (U.S.) a year. NWHL president Sue Fennell told the Toronto Star in defence of her league, “does any one of our teams write a payroll cheque? Not that I’m aware of,” and the accounts of several concerned NWHL team presidents suggest the same thing.

Upon hearing of this, I was appalled, but probably not for the reason you’re thinking of. I stand by the NCAA in saying that gifts cannot be received by the players, and, if the female players want scholarships, they’d better follow the same rules the men do- simply, it’s a matter of fairness. Still, while this does indicate that women are starting to be treated as equals as men, this seems to be not what women probably had envisioned when they thought of equality. You see, what appals me about all this is the fact the NWHL isn’t professional but simply just an outlet to the NCAA and nothing more. Perhaps it’s a little ignorant on my part to be saying this, but I had, for the longest time, believed the NWHL was professional: I mean, how else could I explain the presence of so many Canadian national team members? Now, upon learning that it isn’t and all the new struggles it’s faced with, I think the time has come for the women to have a professional outlet, be it with the men in the National Hockey League or with their own league, if the women want true equality.

The first reason is probably the most obvious: why should men be allowed to make a living out of their sport while the women cannot? In a perfect world, women would be making the same salaries the men do- but, then again, that’d be a request I’d make for any occupation, sports or not. Still, even if women players could make something like $70,000 a year for their sport, nothing too Earth-shattering but enough to live off of, it would be a positive first step, since, just like the men, the women can now make a living playing the game they love. It’s more a symbolic thing than anything else, since, in realistic terms, there’s no way, just yet, that a women’s game can generate as much money as a men’s game (thus making it nearly impossible for multi-millionaire women players), but the idea is all that’s important here. Once people realize that the women are serious, more attention will be paid to them and only from there can the women pursue options that will lead to pay equity with the men. Unfortunately, here in North America, other than in the Olympics, the only way people do pay heavy attention to anything is if it is professional or if it has some links to the pros (as is the case with college football, basketball and baseball)- and, because women’s hockey is not, it’s largely forgotten, wrongly in my opinion I might add.

Second, this kind of precedent isn’t at all unheard of: sensing the increase in attention given to women’s college basketball, the National Basketball Association created the Women’s National Basketball Association a few years ago to relative success. While many casual sports fans probably don’t know any WNBA players, there are a quite a few- even non-basketball fans- who have come across a name like Chamique Holdsclaw or any number of the WNBA stars- and this is largely due to the exposure the WNBA gets. Women’s hockey, arguably, has just as much attention paid to it that women’s basketball did before the WNBA and could be at the stage where it could take off, with a professional league, in Canada like women’s basketball did in the U.S. when the WNBA started. The NHL could have a hand in running it like the NBA does with the WNBA- however, since NHL teams don’t make as much as NBA teams, this may be an ardous task especially for cities like Edmonton and Ottawa, who have a hard enough time as it is running men’s teams. Of course, with separate broadcast contracts this cash requirement would even out eventually, but start-up would prove to be a problem. Other issues like ice time would also have to be resolved, but, if all the NHL teams had women’s teams, the NHL could simply flip the schedule (for example, if the Ottawa Senators are visiting the Calgary Flames in the NHL, the women’s schedule would have Calgary in Ottawa), making things considerably easier. Packages too, could be designed to cover everything- season tickets, say, could cover all the men’s games and all the women’s games too- and, besides, what hockey fan wouldn’t want to go 82 home games? I’d certainly welcome it (well, if I had the money, that is).

Last, but not least, in my opinion anyway, the women’s game is far more enjoyable than the men’s. Because women tend to be less physical (from observations), the game is more wide open and more exciting than the men, who are too preoccupied with clutching and grabbing to allow for exciting games. Scores are higher than the men (one game in the NWHL was 14-0, while another 9-4- when was the last time they were NHL scores?), and, other than the existence of two really bad teams- TELUS and Edmonton- the NWHL is pretty even. As Puckboy once wrote back in December 2001, it’s worth catching a women’s game, so, thus, it’d be worth pumping millions into a pro league because the product will be good- at least better than the men.

I know that much of this is probably a pipe dream, but I feel that, in the name of equality in sports, a women’s pro league has to be considered. There may be more men than women who play and watch sports, but the reality is that there is enough women who do that to merit such an entity. Plus, women’s hockey is gaining more exposure as we speak- thus, then, a women’s pro league would compliment perfectly this momentum, and present another sign for equality and a more positive one than the new NCAA restrictions that have been levied.


18 Responses to Time To Consider Professional Female Players

  1. rojoke says:

    The main stumbling block in establishing a truly professional women’s league is talent, or the lack thereof. There’s just not enough talent currently to ice 30 quality teams. Looking at the World Championships and Olympics, it’s always Canada-vs-US in the final, with Finland finishing third. That’s about 75 quality players. Between the rest of the women’s hockey world in Russia, Sweden, China (do they still count), you might get 10 or 15 more. So that’s less than 100 players, or four or five teams. Truth be told, Canada and the US probably have enough depth to ice two teams each. Until the international competition gets better, a ‘pro’ circuit isn’t in the cards in the forseeable future.

    I think you’d need 8 – 12 teams if you really want to establish the women’s game at the pro level, and I think the NHL could and would be a party to such a league, whether it be as an investor or simply offering infrastructure with regards to scheduling, officiating, merchandising, etc. However, you should note that the WBNA’s season runs in the summer, after the NBA is finished it’s year. The new women’s league wouldn’t have that luxury, and with many NHL buildings home to NBA teams, they’d be pretty low on the pecking order with regards to reserving home dates.

    The other stumbling block that arises is the comparison to men’s hockey when it comes to quality of play. Canada-US games are always great to watch, because the teams are evenly matched, the skill level is pretty high, and there’s a legitimate rivalry between the two. There’s even some ‘checking’, so to speak. But it has to establish itself as different from the NHL in this way. Because there is no checking allowed, the game has to market itself as one of speed, skill and playmaking, which are there in games I’ve seen. If it’s simply going to try and attach itself to the NHL and add an extra W to the acronym, then it will fall short of its goal, and that goal should be legitimacy as a game in its own right.

  2. titans says:

    Sure let the broads play…as long as they can cook for the REAL players after the game, and ya’ know…take care of business in the locker room.

  3. titans says:

    Maybe we should give em’ brooms instead of sticks…so they can feel at home on the ice.

  4. DG says:

    True, but one could argue the same thing for the National Hockey League as well. There’s probably only enough for a dozen teams or so, but there’s 30 teams. Even so, though, with a women’s league of four or five teams, at least it would be a start, and, with so few teams, I’m sure some sort of arrangement could be made with the National Basketball Association with regards to scheduling. Ideally, I’d like a 30-team women’s pro league but I know that, at first, I’ve got to think small and let it grow from there- since, without a start, there is nothing.


  5. BabyLeaf says:

    i don’t know if i should laugh at the stupidity of it, or be extremely insulted!


  6. BabyLeaf says:

    About the who NCAA thing vs. the NWHL, I really can’t comment just because I really do not know much about the situation to give you a proper answer!

    Anyway as a female, I have to say that I think that while the your idea is good on paper…I honestly don’t think it would work out.

    Mainly because I think that womens hockey would not draw a substantial enough of a crowd to be maintained in a professional league. Not because they don’t have talent or whatever, but just because in all honestly…people are not that interested in women’s sports! I mean look at some American teams, they have enough trouble selling tickets for mens games.

    So until womens sports start drawing more crowds, a professional league wouldn’t work.


  7. titans says:

    Sorry…I shoulda said give em’ all mops instead!

  8. rojoke says:

    I’ve never bought that line about the NHL being too diluted. There are a lot of guys in the American League that could be playing in the NHL, but some GMs and coaches can’t seem to overlook the fact that they’re 5′ 10″ and from this side of the pond.

    And as long as we’re going that way, how many men’s minor pro leagues are there in North America? American League, East Coast, United, West Coast, Central, Atlantic Coast. Throw in the Euro leagues, and that’s a pretty big pool of players to draw from. The women’s end hasn’t been as full yet, and who really knows if it will ever get there.

  9. rojoke says:

    The one criticism about women’s sports league that I’ve always heard is that they will never draw crowds, for two reasons. One, women typically would prefer to participate rather than spectate, and when they do go as fans, are predominantly with men. Which leads to the second reason, and that’s the fact that men don’t like to watch women’s sports. Unless it involves jello, mud, or the slight chance of nudity.

  10. SabresFanB says:

    you should be in the kitchen cooking me dinner


  11. DG says:

    I read a stat back in 1998 that said that hockey has around 2 million players in total in all levels, paling in comparison to the other sports which have numbers in the hundreds of millions. How accurate that stat is up for debate, though, rojoke, seeing the quality of play increase this season I’m led to believe the National Hockey League has more than enough players. Plus, you’re right- there’s millions of hidden gems in the minors that are not playing because they’re “too small” (try telling that one to Theoren Fleury, Doug Gilmour or Mark Recchi).

    Still, though, if we can’t start with something small there’s no way it can get bigger, plus, if girls see that they can “make it” playing hockey, I’m sure that the number of girls playing hockey will skyrocket. There was virtually no European players in the NHL in the early 1970s, but once the NHL started to look over there for players, more Europeans started playing. Plus, after Jarri Kurri broke out, Europeans had someone to look up to and even more Europeans started to play hockey, leading up to the European boom we’re in now. If girls, thus, saw that women are making a living playing the sport they love, I’m sure there would plenty more giving hockey a try because they wouldn’t feel their careers would end once they’re cut from the Canadian Olympic Team. Hey, the men never got to their point if something like the NHL didn’t exist, so what’s to say that a female pro league wouldn’t do the same thing?


  12. UsedandAbused says:

    The only way the womens game could ever be more enjoyable then the mens hockey is if they are skating around in thongs. Please… It is fine that girls play hockey in female leagues, but who the hell is going to want to watch it?

  13. JB24 says:

    I think that if there was a professional women’s league started there would be more publicity which could make more girls interested in the sport, start playing at young ages and letting them develop which eventually would help the pro-league grow and enable them to make more teams. You have to start somewhere even if it is only 5 or 6 teams, I really think that u might get more players if girls could actually see more of it, although it would take awhile.

  14. DG says:

    All of you have made fine comments and I want to commend all of you for making them.

    That said, I still believe it is time for a women’s professional league. A lot of the comments made say that no one will watch it, and, while I believe it is a valid point, I believe that idea has more to do with current societal attitudes more than anything else. People in the early 1900s never believed that women could be given the vote because they didn’t think women could be “smart enough” to make such a decision and, with changing attitudes, we’ve learned that what we once held before was not true. The same I believe can be said about women’s hockey. I think that most can’t see women playing sports because of society’s perception that men are warriors and women run the house, notions that have existed for thousands of years, and thus, since sports players are “warriors” it is odd for women to be thought of as sports players because that would mean they’re “warriors”. However, I believe that if people forgot that “women” are on the ice they’d see a pretty good game and I believe because of it, people would start watching it because the games are good. Still, the notion that women cannot play sports has to disappear before this can happen, so, yes, we’re still a long way from it. However, unless we start small- with four or five teams and maybe crowds of 10,000- it’s impossible for it to gain any exposure that would get it to that point. Even if we start it now we’d be years- perhaps even decades- before a women’s league would get to the ideal point, but, unless we start we can’t get anywhere in the first place.


  15. titans says:

    I made a fine comment? I wouldn’t commend me for my comments.

  16. rojoke says:

    There’s a difference between quality and quantity. Women’s hockey is increasing almost exponentially in North America, but I don’t think the same can be said for Europe. Without quality players who can perform, it doesn’t matter how many young women take up the game.

    The point I wanted to make is that if you really want to do this right, I think you’d need at least 8 teams. And there just isn’t enough players to form that many teams right now. And the European depth just isn’t there to tap into yet. Maybe after the next Olympics, the international competition will be better.

    The hotbeds of men’s European hockey, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, are not producing a lot of women’s hockey players. Finland won bronze at SLC, but they are considered well below the US and Canada. It may be a few years before a real women’s pro league comes to fruition.

  17. DG says:

    Well…I was referring to the other commenters who did make fine comments…I know you didn’t (and for that matter SabresFanB)…however, instead of naming each commenter I decided a general statemet like “all of you” to save me some trouble. My mid-terms are coming soon so my mind may not be completely fine these next few days…


  18. DG says:

    Still, who’s to say that it has to be eight teams? Couldn’t we have four and let it grow from there? The National Hockey League started with four teams, so it’s possible. Also, I’d argue that without a pro league the female player pool in Europe wouldn’t develop because girls don’t have someone to look up to, which they would if there was a pro league.

    However, yeah, it may be a few years before this can actually come into being, but all I wanted to do with this article was at least to consider it and raise awarness that we need one. Even if today people decided they wanted a female professional league, it would at least be another year or two before it could get past the planning stage. I know that it’s impossible for a women’s league to start up tommorow, but that’s not what I’m expecting. I’d be happy that, at least in a few years, a pro league was to start up, because I feel the women deserve it.


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