A scheduling philosophy that helped build interest in University of Idaho women’s basketball nearly 40 years ago when the Vandals began playing the game seriously is making a resurgence.
After falling out of favor in the 1980s when women’s basketball leaders across the nation began pushing for their game to develop its own identity, basketball doubleheaders featuring men’s and women’s teams are back. The Vandals will have played four this season. The men and women shared the Cowan Spectrum court Dec. 15 when the women played host to Seattle University and the men to Simon Fraser. Dec. 21 the Idaho teams were at Boise’s Century Link Arena – the women facing Eastern Oregon University and the men University of California Irvine – and home-and-home doubleheaders with Big Sky Conference travel partner Eastern Washington University played for the first time this year are set to become an annual tradition. The first games took place at Reese Court Jan. 12, and the Eagles visited Cowan Spectrum Friday.
This time around, doubleheaders are met with enthusiasm similar to when Vandals fans would be entertained by Tara VanDerveer’s women’s team and Don Monson’s men.
“We thought it was something that should be revisited,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said. Idaho was the driver behind playing doubleheaders with EWU, he adds, and it took a couple of years before EWU’s athletics officials came around to the idea.
“Idaho people I talk to are excited to be able to watch both teams,” Spear said. Although he hasn’t penciled it out closely, Spear believes schools should realize some savings in game operations from having men’s and women’s teams play back-to-back. At the same time, Idaho is looking at the EWU games as an opportunity to promote the event rather than an attempt to use it as a windfall. When the teams played in Cheney, according to Spear, EWU doubled its admission price for the pair of games. By contrast, “we want to make it affordable. We want to drive participation,” he says. .
Years ago, men’s game fans would begin filtering in to the Kibbie Dome during the second half of the women’s game. It seemed people eventually began coming earlier, to catch more of the women’s game, especially UI students, who developed a rabid connection with the team.
“Those doubleheaders back in the day did seem a good way of letting fans understand the women’s game was pretty good back when women’s basketball was taking off,” Vandals coach Jon Newlee said. On balance, he thinks doubleheaders are “a great idea,” especially against travel partner EWU. “That’s a no-brainer. We should be playing together instead of splitting the fan base.”
But Newlee is sensitive to the need for women’s basketball to stand on its own, as well.
“I feel like we do need our own identity, our own game day, our own routine.”
He pointed out it always seems to be the women who play the first half of a doubleheader. “it’s sometimes hard for families to sit through two games.” Also, “we have to start an hour earlier. Some people are not off work yet.”
Idaho men’s coach Don Verlin sees a synergy in having the men’s and women’s teams take on a league rival on the same night, in the same venue.
“I think it’s about school spirit. When you’re playing somebody (only) 80 miles away, why not play a doubleheader?” he asks. “it makes sense for a number of reasons, for the rivalry, for school spirit, and for fans not having to make a choice which team to watch.
“I think it’s a win-win. That’s the way it should be done.”