Are the UConn Huskies Women Bad for the Sport? (Part One)
"The UConn Huskies are too dominant for their own good." "They are too dominant to
be interesting." "Their success is hurting women's basketball."
I have seen all of these statements this week. "Rubbish" and "ludicrous" are words that come to mind when I read such things.
Let's break this down, shall we?
We start with "too dominant for their own good."
Much has been made of "The Streak." The UConn women's basketball team has blown
through the regular season unscathed, and taken their first postseason steps by
mercilessly dispatching all opponents in their conference tournament.
By nearly every judgement (it is possible that a couple people on the campuses
of Nebraska and Stanford think otherwise), the Huskies will be cutting down the
nets on April 6 in San Antonio to complete their second consecutive undefeated
As anyone with a TV or Internet connection probably knows, the current winning
streak sits at 72 and counting. It broke the previous record for consecutive games won by a Div. I women's team that was held by an earlier incarnation of the UConn Huskies (2001-2003). If all goes to form this season, the streak will be at 78 by season's end.
Let us just start with this fact: If this were a men's team, maybe with Kentucky or Kansas or North Carolina on their chests, it would be the biggest sports story of this generation. Absolutely indisputable is that women's athletics do not get the attention of men's athletics. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, that is quite simply a truth.
Sadly for those who enjoy/support women's athletics, the big-name sports commentators have been largely ignoring this simple truth.
The son-of-a-legend Jeremy Schapp was on ESPN the day after the Big East Championship game to tell us that the Huskies were too dominant to be interesting. Schapp dug out his flowery prose to explain that we, as Americans, like competition.
Without even a single game being closer than 12 points, he made the statement that UConn was being "diminished by dominance." Ever erudite, Schapp then paraphrased Wilt Chamberlain's famous line about how nobody roots for Goliath.
I have to tell you, if I didn't know better, I would have bought what he was selling. The guy comes across as an incredibly knowledgeable and clearly intelligent observer of sports in America.
There have been no shortage of bloggers and sportswriters echoing those sentiments, albeit slightly less eloquently.
The problem of course, is the whole men/women thing. Again, if this were the North Carolina men's team, it would be a lead story nearly every day of the basketball season.
This streak does not get the media play it deserves for the same reason the Penn State women's volleyball team's 102 match (three straight national titles) doesn't. Men aren't interested. It is really that simple. Basketball is more popular than volleyball, so it isn't completely ignored, but I think you get the point.
The folks at ESPN probably meant well, but they did something that I felt demeaned the entire sport of women's basketball during halftime of win No. 72. They aired a clip of an interview with LeBron James giving his thoughts on how impressive he found the winning streak. For the record, he thinks that these girls can really play and that what they were doing was really incredible.
Here's my beef. Why do we (men) need LeBron to tell us this? Shouldn't we be able to determine this on our own? Did ESPN think that maybe some 27-year-old guy might be watching the broadcast and decide to give women's hoops a chance? Unlikely. Maybe some 16-year-old girl would see it and feel validated in her decision to pursue a dream of playing college basketball? Sad.
Seriously, what was the point of that clip?
Bottom line—If you sincerely respect women's athletics in general, then you probably think that watching the Huskies play feels like you're witnessing history. Whether you are rooting for the streak to continue or to end, you know that this is history in the making.
If, on the other hand, the notion of "girls" playing basketball strikes you as quaint...maybe you "unintentionally" belittle the sport with statements like "it doesn't really interest me because they play below the rim"...then you are really not going to care either way what the Huskies do. You likely got in a huff when ESPN cuts into your game to show you the final minutes of the record breaking victory.
Look, that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their personal tastes. Just don't try to pass off your disinterest with sexist statements like "they are just too dominant."
Final point on this part of the issue: Tiger Woods. From 2000-2002, it hardly seemed like Tiger could lose. Guys who wouldn't know a wood from a wedge were discussing golf. When Tiger was in top form, it was an event every time he stepped on the course. The Golf Channel exists so that people can follow Tiger.
Tiger was truly dominant. The sport he played was not very popular with the ESPN's primary demographic. Yet Tiger was everywhere all the time. What about Annika Sorenstam? Probably more dominant than Tiger, and almost as boring a public figure. Her problem? You guessed it. She is a female.
You think the Huskies are too dominant? Root against them. If you simply don't think
that high-level women's hoops is "real" basketball (despite the better fundamentals, better passing, better team offense and defense, and better shooting), have the guts to say it. Don't hide behind pithy, pseudo-intellectual statements like "too dominant."
One last message to the blogosphere: The team is not called the "Lady Huskies." They are simply the "Huskies."
This concludes the "they are too dominant to be popular" portion of our program.
Part Two will deal with the "hurting the sport" statements.
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