Column: Duke's Cameron Crazies have to catch up with nation's excitement about women's college basketball

Duke fans hype up Cameron Indoor Stadium's section 17 at 2023 Countdown to Craziness.
Duke fans hype up Cameron Indoor Stadium's section 17 at 2023 Countdown to Craziness.

Kinnick Stadium was close to capacity. 

On a Sunday October night in Iowa City, Iowa, 55,646 people sat outside in the football stadium converted to a basketball court to watch the Iowa women’s basketball team face off against DePaul in a charity exhibition match before the commencement of the 2023-24 season. The massive crowd, shattering the previous women’s basketball game attendance record by nearly double, reflects a new era of women’s college basketball. Duke women’s basketball culture, however, has not quite kept up.

All over the country, dynamic athletes like Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and LSU’s Angel Reese have elevated their respective teams and shone a light on the entire sport, capturing the imagination of fans and media alike. This newfound prominence is not only about celebrating exceptional individual talent but represents a collective cultural movement toward gender equality in sports.

With this increased level of attention, one might expect Duke, known worldwide as a “basketball school,” to readily jump on the hype train and finally allow its women’s team the same level of celebrity its men’s team has enjoyed for decades. 

But, of course, what people mean when they say that Duke is a “basketball school” is that it is a men’s basketball school. Despite the increasing interest in women’s basketball across the country, the Blue Devil women’s team has not yet reached that storied ideal among its fanbase. Just compare attendance to men’s games versus women’s. 

A total of 149,024 people attended a Duke men’s basketball home game during the team’s 2022-23 campaign. The women, on the other hand, recorded a cumulative home attendance of 34,133 across their 15 regular-season home games. The disparity in attendance and enthusiasm between the two teams has deeply ingrained cultural and historical roots of the preeminence of men’s sports over women’s. 

The NCAA did not begin to sponsor women’s basketball until 1982, by which point Duke’s men’s team had been playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium for more than 40 years and Mike Kryrzewski had already begun his storied career as head coach.

Duke, for its part, has done well in promoting its women’s basketball team. The institution advertises women’s games as much as the men’s games, while also setting up an increasing number of public appearances for the women’s team. For instance, this year marks the first year that the women’s basketball team has played at Countdown to Craziness, while last year was the first time its players were introduced at the event. The women’s team also hosts open practices and meet-and-greet events for the Cameron Crazies to attend.

But if the institution has given the women its complete and total support, why hasn’t the hype around the team followed suit? The answer lies with the fans. If you ask a Duke student whether they think women should be supported and uplifted, they will more than likely answer yes. But, when it comes to supporting the Duke women’s basketball team, that same energy of supporting women has been seemingly lackluster. 

“It’s the Cameron Crazies that make [Duke] special,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said to the dutifully assembled fans before the Countdown to Craziness festivities began Oct. 20.  

And she is absolutely right. The Cameron Crazies are the most famous fans in all of college basketball. They faithfully fill up the student section for every men’s basketball home game and take a test simply for the chance to sleep outside for weeks in order to watch the team face off against its fiercest rival. Without the Crazies, Cameron Indoor would be just another college basketball stadium. 

And yet, they only do this for men’s games. The Cameron Crazies and the diehard loyalty they represent, the quintessential symbol of Duke’s blue-blood basketball legacy, have always been synonymous with men's basketball. Women’s games have no testing, no tents. Most — even the highly anticipated North Carolina rivalry game — barely have a full student section, especially when compared to other notable women’s basketball’s programs. 

Throughout its stellar 2022-23 season, the Iowa women’s basketball team averaged 11,143 fans in attendance. Other programs like LSU or Louisville averaged 8,733 and 8,779, respectively. Duke, on the other hand, had an average attendance of just 2,275. The Blue Devil “faithful” fell remarkably short. 

Some may say there is a reason for that. Watching an Iowa women’s basketball game promises Clark’s dynamic talents. Reese showed off an energetic presence both on and off the court when she led the Tigers to a 2023 National Championship win while cultivating a massive social media following. Success breeds interest, and interest breeds benefits like increased media coverage and larger turnouts. 

Still, not all of it is about success. While success certainly plays a role in these disparities, even in years where the women’s team has undoubtedly outperformed it, the men’s team remains more popular. In this past season, for instance, despite being ranked No. 16 in the nation at the time, the women’s team reached a season-high home attendance at its Virginia Tech game in January only because the game had been designated as one where students could earn points for tenting for the men’s North Carolina game. The men’s team, at the time, was unranked. 

In spite of the university’s efforts, the responsibility to build culture, for the most part, falls on the fans. For the Blue Devils to reach the growing national standard in this regard, the fans — primarily Duke students — must put in the effort to turn out for games. With the winds of women’s basketball blowing stronger and stronger, perhaps it’s time for Blue Devil fans to rise to the challenge and show the women’s team the recognition and enthusiasm it deserves.


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