Are the UConn Huskies Women Bad for the Sport? (Part Two)

Tom SmithCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2010

(For Part One of this story, click here.)

"The UConn women's basketball team is hurting women's basketball."

Well, that's interesting. How? How can incredible success and relative fame and attention be bad? See, it's a tricky one. Catchy though.

The crux of this argument is actually similar to the "too dominant to be interesting" position debunked in part one of this story.

Since 1995, only six different teams have won the national championship. UConn has six, Tennessee has five, and four teams have one each. This is used to illustrate that the women's college basketball game is too predictable. Why bother watching if you already know who is going to win?

Here's something interesting: In the same time period, only seven different teams have won the NBA championship. Folks still watch that, don't they? The Bulls won three in a row during that time...did people stop watching? The Lakers won four in a row to start the century. Did the rest of the teams give up?

How is it so different for women's college basketball?

You still have to play the games.

In UConn's case, I will tell you right now that those ladies are a torn knee ligament away from ending the streak. They are not a deep team. In the Big East semifinals, Caroline Doty went down late in the second half after a blow to the head. She didn't get up for several minutes.

If you were watching, you saw the entire XL Center in Hartford go dead quiet. You saw teammates with tears in their eyes and terrified looks on their faces. Even Coach Auriemma looked like he was holding back tears. What if Doty had a concussion and had to miss the next day's game?

The streak can end any given day. You still have to play the games. A sophomore guard goes down with a bump on the head (she's fine), and a whole state holds their breath?

There isn't a lot more to this argument that the Huskies are hurting the women's game. It is just plain silly.

You don't think Stanford thinks they can win if they get a rematch with the Huskies, an opportunity to avenge their only loss? (UConn won the first meeting on Dec. 23 by 12. Stanford actually had a lead at halftime.)

The undefeated Cornhuskers of Nebraska feel like they can take down the Big Dogs if given the chance.

I bet you didn't even know that that there was another undefeated team entering the NCAA tournament, did you? Well, Stanford is 28-1, Nebraska is 29-0, and Tennessee is 30-2. Any one of those teams could end "The Streak." Having seen at least parts of nearly every game the Huskies have played this year, I don't think it likely...but it's possible.

Does the dominance of so few teams say anything about the state of women's college basketball? I think so, just not what you think.

I feel that schools like UConn, Tennessee, and Stanford have shown what can happen when significant institutional support is given to a women's basketball program. The coaches are paid generously, the facilities are first rate, the recruiting expenses are not nickel-and-dimed...same formula used in the men's game.

There are a handful of schools that have embraced this philosophy and many more that have not.

Title IX was passed in 1972. It was ignored completely for well over a decade. Progress has unquestionably been made, but we're not there yet. Fairness for all college athletes does not yet exist. Football drives the bus. Men's basketball often gets to ride along. Women's sports? Good luck with that.

The equality gap was deemed significant enough that the Department of Education called for the forming of a commission in 2002 to examine ways to strengthen enforcement of the legislation. There is still a long way to go.

People will naturally argue the economics of sports. I hear you.

Football makes all the money. Men's sports, in general, generate far, far more revenue than women's sports. This would be a valid point if we were talking about the NBA vs. the WNBA, but we're not. This is college. The athletes are students, at least most of them are. Ever check the graduation rates of women's basketball against those of men's basketball?

Do so, then tell me who is more deserving of university support.

I do think that the "powers that be" made a mistake in their efforts to appear fair. "Over-expansion" is the theme here. There are a great many talented ball players in the women's game. I just don't think there are enough to spread out over 332 D-1 teams, not yet at least. Same is true for the NCAA tournament.

There are simply not yet enough teams to fill out a competitive 64 team bracket. It is possible that, in their rush to comply with legislation, they inadvertently handicapped the sport.

The tournament began in 1982 with a 32 team field. Four years later, it was expanded to 40, then 48 in 1989. The current 64 team format began in 1994. There were not then, and there are not now, enough 64 tournament worthy teams.

There is no question that women's sports are on the rise. I have been encouraged by the coverage provided by ESPN. Since 2003, they have shown every game of the tournament on ESPN or ESPN2.

Basketball is a phenomenal sport. Both boys and girls love to play the game. College athletics are not a cute diversion for these young women. More young women than ever play college athletics. This is a great thing.

They are not men. They are not professionals. They are college kids doing their best to live up to the standards of the student-athlete that used to be the foundation of all college sports.

It is just a shame that "the media" feels the need to diminish greatness in their rush to be interesting.

Bringing it back to the Huskies, they are playing some of the best basketball you will see. Men or women. College or professional. This team is wicked good. Talented, well-coached, focused, disciplined. Their fastbreak is a thing of absolute beauty. Their help defense is textbook. They embody the principle of "win every possession" that every coach in America tries to instill. How is this bad?

If you like basketball, you owe it to yourself to watch at least the Final Four of the upcoming women's tournament. If you choose not to, at least be honest as to why.

(For Part One of this story, click here.)


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