College Softball Has Arrived
OKLAHOMA CITY – If you have followed softball and have a passion for it, you knew it was only a question of time before the NCAA Women’s College World Series became one of the NCAA’s best events and one of the hottest tickets in town. And it has, but it has taken time and the effort of many people throughout the years who were there in the early days when a good crowd was 2,000 or 3,000 people and total attendance was 12,073 in 1990 when the event moved to Oklahoma City.
Except for one year the event has been held in Oklahoma City. In 1996 it was held in Columbus, Georgia and the event drew 25,694. The following year the WCWS moved back to OKC and drew 27,553. Even with the event in OKC, there was talk in the early years of moving the WCWS to other cities, including Fresno, CA and Florida, but those plans never became a reality. That’s good because there is only one place for this event to be held and that’s where it’s being held today. In time Oklahoma City will become what Omaha has become for the NCAA Men’s College World Series—“the” place for college softball—the Mecca of college softball. In fact, it might be that already.
As the sport has grown from around 7,000 participants in 1982, when the NCAA took over women’s softball, the interest and popularity has soared and today there are more than 18,000 participants playing college softball, with 283 schools and 5,633 participants in Division One, 279 schools and 5,355 participants in Division II and 407 schools and 7,200 participants in Division III based on 2010-2011 figures. Those numbers will only increase in the future.
The colleges and universities have also played a major role by upgrading their facilities and paying coaches better and realizing the sport is highly competitive with outstanding athletes who just love to play softball.
Title XI has also played a major role in giving women’s athletes overall, and certainly softball, an equitable position in the collegiate sports world. It would have been just as easy to give up, but coaches like Judi Garman (Cal State Fullerton) and Margie Wright (Fresno State) were not to be denied because they believed in college softball and their efforts, along with those of many others too numerous to mention, weren’t wasted. It was worth it in the long run. They’ve always known that, but it was convincing others that took time.
And certainly the fans have helped to increase the overall attendance each year. You have loyal and dedicated fans who take vacations, days off, and whatever they can work around their calendars to attend the WCWS. The people are addicted to the sport and they are proud to admit it.
And they should because what is there not to like about women’s college softball? The athletes play lights-out, give their maximum effort to win a national championship trophy and give the fans what they are paying to see—athletes performing at their best. The athletes certainly hold up their end of the bargain and rarely, if ever, disappoint the loyal fans. There is only one national champion, and the fans realize that. They only want their teams to perform to the best of their capabilities because they know that getting to the WCWS is the ultimate in college softball and it certainly hasn’t been an easy task as the athletes and teams have gotten better to improve the overall parity of the sport.
Certainly another big factor in the development of the sport has been the internet where more information can be sent plus the emergence of ESPN televising all the games has been huge. In the early days, ESPN would tape-delay some games and started coverage in the 1985 championship game between UCLA and Nebraska in Omaha, NE. Gradually each year the coverage has improved. More games were covered live instead of tape-delayed and by 2001 ESPN had started doing all the games instead of just the championship and maybe a few leading up to the championship.
The exposure given to the sport has been tremendous and highlighted the skills and athletic abilities of these talented players. People who had never seen the sport were amazed how well they played and wanted to see it first-hand. That has helped spur additional interest in the sport and ESPN deserves a lot of credit for realizing what they had on their hands—a sport which was about ready to explode in popularity. Besides ESPN, the different media outlets have realized that the College World Series is an event that deserves coverage and they have helped spur the interest with athletes realizing they are going to get their fair share of coverage that other sports and athletes get.
No longer are a few schools dominating the WCWS. It’s up for grabs and Oklahoma and Alabama have proven it this year, with the Pac-12 string of six consecutive NCAA national championships ended. Oklahoma and Alabama are evenly matched and this is a championship series that could go all three games. It will be college softball at its best and there are only better days ahead for college softball. Finally the sport and the athletes who play the game so well are getting the recognition and respect they have earned and deserve.
It’s been overdue to be sure, but finally the sport has arrived and the many people before who worked behind the scenes and believed in the sport knew this day would come. They won’t say it, but they can say, “I told you so that softball would one day be one of the most popular NCAA sports.” Some didn’t believe that, but the ones who did, including the Oklahoma All Sports Association and its many volunteers, have followed it and stayed involved with the sport knowing it was only a question of time. That time has finally arrived for college softball.